With three new polls showing Elizabeth Warren inching ahead of Sen. Scott Brown, their first debate on Thursday will be crucial. First debates are often the most important, as viewers get to see candidates side by side on roughly equal footing.
Brown is trying to lower expectations for himself by claiming he’s the underdog. Here’s a checklist of things Warren should be prepared for:
1. Did she do several mock debates with an aggressive stand-in playing Brown; did the Brown surrogate study how he answers questions? Will she use a debate coach and will she pay attention to him or her? The mock sessions should be timed and videotaped. She needs to get a feel for the actual event, especially his rebuttals and his answers, which he will repeat verbatim. WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller is an old hand at this and says he’ll encourage them to mix it up but he won’t allow filibusters or talking over one another.
2. Will she let him give himself a permanent Free Pass for Guys whenever he’s asked about issues affecting women? When questioned on his support from right-to-life groups or why he’s opposed to equal pay for women, he says he lives in a house full of women. What does that prove? Women who are not living in his house might not find the gender of his wife and daughters a sufficient reason to forgive his voting with his party against the concerns of women.
3. Is she ready for questions on foreign and military policy, an area where Brown likes to pretend he has special knowledge? Will he join Mitt Romney in questioning the president over attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates in Muslim countries?
4. How will she deal with the inevitable attack on her role in the “You-didn’t-build-that” controversy, which she used and Obama borrowed? It was pulled out of context, but Brown almost certainly will raise it.
5. Did she or her handlers go to school on Brown’s hour-long interview on “The Eagan and Braude” radio show last Friday? Brown uses questions to deliver memorized lines. Jim Braude kept asking if his promise to close loopholes didn’t mean that those using loopholes would pay more in taxes. No matter how often Braude chased him, he kept saying robotically he wants to lower taxes. Like all Republicans, he called the wealthy “job creators.” When exactly will they start creating some?
6. Will she nail him for co-sponsoring the Blunt Amendment, which Braude’s co-host Margery Eagan pressed him on? It would have allowed employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control for female employees if doing so would conflict with the company’s religious or moral values. He argued that he would not “pit women against their church.” Shamelessy mixing church and state, he declared, “I am going to protect the rights of Catholics.” No wonder former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn loves this guy.
7. Will she let Brown get away with claiming she wants to raise taxes by $3.4 trillion? This is a number he simply made up. He likes to say he’s for lowering taxes and she’s for raising them. Will this juvenile comparison be challenged?
8. Can she find a way to inject examples of the phony bragging he’s done in this campaign? For example, he claimed he “routinely and secretly meets with kings and queens and other world leaders.” Asked to name them, he couldn’t. He also said he’d seen the photos of Osama bin Laden after he was killed. Actually he was duped by phony images on the Internet. (As long as he’s making things up, will he say he’s seen photos of aliens from other planets and meets frequently with their leaders?)
9. Is she ready to keep a running tally for viewers of all the times he calls her “Professor Warren” — his way of making her seem like an ivory tower elitist? Perhaps she could call him “Professor Brown,” since he professes to be a moderate, but has opposed the Affordable Care Act, favors cutting taxes for the top 1 percent of Americans, and opposed efforts to hold the line on college student loan interest rates.
10. Can she highlight the stakes in the election — namely, control of the U.S. Senate? Will he support Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who said his No. 1 goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president? Brown will likely say that he doesn’t even know if McConnell will run for the post. This will come as news to McConnell.
11. Will she tie Romney around his neck, while he’s busy saying he supports President Obama on this, that and the other? If he goes on about being bipartisan, she might ask, “Will you be voting for Obama? When did you become a Democrat?”
12. Does she finally have an answer on her Native American ancestry? Will she say firmly it is a family matter and she will not tolerate Brown’s belittling her family? Or will she try painfully to explain it because he’ll claim she used her heritage to get positions at prestigious law schools? Can she resist taking the bait?
13. Is her campaign ready for an old trick: a day-of-the-debate charge? It doesn’t matter if it’s ludicrous. Immediately after the debate Brown’s people will hand out a sheet of charges against her or mistakes they’ll claim she made during the debate. Warren’s camp should do likewise. They should also fact-check every one of her assertions beforehand.
14. What’s her soundbite, the statement that she’d like to be the lead of stories on the debate?