Scott Brown switches tone on fourth debate from pre- to post-storm, pre- to post-poll

US Senator Scott Brown and state Senator Robert Hedlund tour Scituate on Monday during high tide and the height of Hurricane Sandy.
US Senator Scott Brown and state Senator Robert Hedlund tour Scituate on Monday during high tide and the height of Hurricane Sandy.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

On Friday afternoon, Senator Scott Brown was asked about the possibility of an approaching Hurricane Sandy affecting plans for his fourth and final debate with Elizabeth Warren today.

“That’s why I have a truck,” Brown told WBZ-TV. “You know, it has four-wheel drive. If she needs a ride, I’m happy to pick her up, and I’ll be there, providing the electricity is on.”

Well, the power is on at the WGBH-TV studios, but Brown won’t be there tonight for the debate, which was to be sponsored by the Globe and other Boston media outlets.

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Instead, he cancelled at the height of the storm on Monday, as Massachusetts was buffeted by rain and high winds—but spared the damage unleashed on New Jersey and surrounding states.

In a statement issued by his communications director more than 24 hours before the debate was to begin, Brown backed out, citing public safety and his obligations as a US senator.

“The Scott Brown campaign today announced that out of concern for the hardship faced by people in the path of Hurricane Sandy that he will not be participating in tomorrow’s fourth and final debate,” spokesman Colin Reed said. “It is simply not appropriate to go forward with a political debate when a disaster strikes. The focus for all of us before, during, and after the storm needs to be on emergency response and disaster relief, not campaigns and politics.”

For context, the statement added: “Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have cancelled their campaign events for Tuesday, as did Senate candidates in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Additionally, the Maine Senate debate scheduled for tomorrow has been cancelled.”

Brown followed up Monday with a personal tour of storm damage in Scituate—while dressed in a windbreaker emblazoned with his campaign logo. “Scott Brown: He’s for Us,” it read, as seen in at least one newspaper photo.

Today, Brown made clear he is disinterested in rescheduling the debate, as the organizers requested and Warren committed to do, even if his trademark green GMC Canyon can get him there and his opponent has her own ride. Warren had agreed not to hold the debate today shortly after Brown backed out Monday.

“We’ve already had three debates,” he told reporters as he toured a storm-damaged area in Westport.

“I had two radio debates that she didn’t participate in,” Brown added, alluding to the debate-debate he and Warren went through before finally agreeing to their schedule of four televised meetings.

The senator went on to assert that voters already know where the candidates stand, even without another debate.

“There’s only a few days left and we have a very, very busy schedule,” he said, referring additional questions to his campaign staff.

They have not returned calls today.

The shift in Brown’s position is not just dramatic in comparison to his pickup truck statement made Friday, which he delivered as he spoke to reporters at his campaign headquarters after picking up the endorsement of women’s rights advocate Wendy Murphy.

It also was noteworthy in that Brown announced he was pulling out of the debate about five hours after the Globe published online the results of its latest poll in his race with Warren.

It found that the senator was leading the Harvard Law School professor by a margin of 45 percent to 43 percent, a statistical tie within the survey’s 4.1 percentage point margin of error but a reversal of a similar September poll showing Warren leading Brown 43 percent to 38 percent.

Monday’s Globe survey had the race tied at 47 percent each when voters leaning toward each candidate were added to the voters already committed to them.

While Warren officials believe their internal polls show her still leading the race, a sentiment backed up by other recent public polling and a Suffolk University poll today showing the professor leading the senator by 7 percentage points, the Globe poll underscored that there might be little political upside from Brown participating in another debate.

Republican strategists suggested it may have also paralleled Brown’s own polling in what he has publicly said is a neck-and-neck contest.

Today, as the T got back to service in Boston, as highways into the city began to teem with traffic, as flights began to take off from Logan International Airport, Brown skipped a drive into the city and the debate hall in favor of a tour of areas affected by the storm.

They included places like Quincy and Gloucester, where he has appeared frequently and is counting on running up big vote totals.

He was accompanied on his journey—announced by his Senate staff rather than his campaign one to avoid any suggestion it was politically motivated—by a Republican sheriff and Republican state senator. Also joining at one stop was the Democratic mayor of Quincy, Tom Koch, who has made the point of not falling in line behind Warren by avoiding any endorsement in her campaign against Brown.

In a noon interview with WHDH-TV (Channel 7), the senator made clear his concerns were with the individual constituents he was meeting as he drove around in his pickup, not the masses of voters who would have seen him had he forged ahead and drove it to the debate.

Brown said his biggest concern was “Mrs. Jones, having trouble with her insurance company.”