Senate Debate Was A Draw — Brown And Warren Were Both Good, But Not Great

Partisans in both camps credibly claim that their candidate won the debate for various reasons. But did undecided viewers learn something new and persuasive? Probably not.

If winning the debate meant winning undecided voters, I think it was essentially a draw.

The format was good — there was plenty of give-and-take and the issues were appropriate. WBZ’s Jon Keller, the moderator, did an outstanding job. He was fair and focused, as usual.

Trying to be objective, this is how I’d rate the candidates on my do-it-yourself scorecard (scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being exceptionally good):

PERSONALITY. Who did you like in terms of sincerity, affability and charm?

Sen. Scott Brown came in as the more likable candidate, but he didn’t leave that way. At times he seemed to smirk while talking and listening. And while his personal attacks on Warren were intended to throw her off her game and put her on the defensive in post-debate news coverage, he seemed a little too pleased in attacking so personally.

Elizabeth Warren seemed to be playing a role: earnest, innocent populist. She obviously had been coached to sound less like a complaining, lecturing professor. But trying to play “Mrs. Smith Goes To Washington,” she came across as a pol delivering memorized lines.

Brown 4, Warren 6

CHARACTER. Who seemed honest and trustworthy?

Neither candidate seemed to speak with conviction. Neither revealed anything new about their character or made stirring arguments from principle rather than circumstance.

Brown 5, Warren 5

INTELLIGENCE. Who was reassuringly smart — in knowledge, savvy, wisdom?

Brown cited legislation and fiscal numbers more than Warren. Perhaps she was afraid to sound like a policy wonk. Still, while trying to sound more folksy (“working families” was her mantra), she was articulate in a way that reminded viewers that she was knowledgeable and a natural debater.

Brown 6, Warren 6

APPEARANCE. Who projected a good image?

They both looked good, image-wise.

Brown 8, Warren 8

RHETORIC. Who had memorable lines – clever, convincing soundbites?

Brown generally had better lines. He said Warren was “obsessed with raising taxes,” told her to “stop scaring women,” mocked her “nuanced approach” on Iran, bluntly said she was “not telling the truth” about her consulting for an insurance company to help deny benefits to victims of asbestos poisoning, and said she was not helping to keep higher education costs down by being paid over $300,000 “to teach one class” at Harvard Law School.

Warren kept saying “balanced” in response to Brown saying “bipartisan.” She accused Brown of trying to cut taxes for the wealthy, while claiming she was “fighting for working families.” She talked frequently about “Big Oil” and said there was a “rigged playing field.” She repeatedly said the contest was a matter of “whose side do you stand on?” and “control of the Senate.”

Brown 7, Warren 5

ISSUES. Who made the most effective arguments about policy?

This question largely depends on the bias of the viewer. If the undecided voter leaned conservative, Brown’s arguments were more appealing. If liberal-leaning, then Warren.

Brown 7, Warren 7

MESSAGE. Who had a compelling, consistent theme?

Both candidates repeated their “messaging.” For example, on energy Brown favored an “all of the above” approach, while Warren supported “clean energy.” He was “bipartisan” while she was “balanced.” He stressed being independent; she emphasized supporting President Obama’s re-election.

Brown 8, Warren 8

MASSACHUSETTS. Who seemed most dedicated to serving this state?

They both occasionally made local references, but neither raised expectations about what they could uniquely accomplish for the state — as a catalyst for projects or ambassador for the state in trying to lure employers.

Brown 6, Warren 6

LEADERSHIP. Who had the aura, stature and inspiration of a genuine leader?

Brown seemed more confident and assertive. Warren started strong, but seemed weaker at the end. But this too is a subjective question — a senator is a representative, not an executive, and some prefer a leader who seems more humble.

Brown 7, Warren 7

PERFORMANCE. Who beat your expectations?

Brown was more articulate, feisty and forceful than he usually is in interviews and ads, but also not as much the “nice guy” or “regular guy.” Warren was less negative and partisan than usual, but seemed stilted and over-coached. So they beat expectations in some ways, while underperforming in other ways.

Brown 5, Warren 5

TOTAL SCORES: Brown 63, Warren 63

Now the really tricky question: How will it play out in post-debate debate — publicity, conversation and possible soundbites in negative ads? We’ll see.

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  • Jmcintee

    Live in fla caught debate by mistake. The guy won hands down over woman. If this gal claimed she was of Indian heritage on official documents and is not she is not to be trusted and should be scalped by a real Indian. Jerry fl

    • egzoomj

      I think the choice is simple.  If you like what you see from Mitt Romney and the congressional republicans then you should vote for Brown to strengthen their hand.

      Also just a side note, I find your “scalped by a real Indian”, comment to be offensive

    • drbloor

       “Gal” and “scalped by a real Indian?’  Condescension and racism in one three line post.  Well played, well played indeed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joel.lazewatsky Joel Lazewatsky

       Sorry, didn’t work like this. First,she is as legitimately Indian as Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, who is only 1/32 Cherokee. It was a line on a form that she filled out after being hired and truthfully, as far as she knew. She was not hired on that basis, but Harvard used the point later in filings of its own.

  • juki654

    I don’t find Brown charming at all.  He sounds patronizing and smarmy.  To say that we can trust him on women’s issues because he lives in a “house full of women” was so patronizing.  Oh yes, he’ll take care of us little women, right?  His support of the bill that would allow employers and insurance companies to deny contraceptive coverage on their own whim finished him for me.

  • Leonard Nicodemo

    As a Warren supporter, I agree with this article – it was basically a dead heat. They both did well. 

  • Grogan

    Brown has trouble with the barrage of “millionaires and billionaires” lines from Warren.  Warren was pretty feeble on the; Occupy Wall Street jab, You Didn’t Build That jab, The Traveler’s Insurance fiasco and the line of the night – “you’re not running against Jim Inhofe you’re running against me”.  Contrary to WBUR and the Boston Globe I’m afraid Ms Warren came out as the loser last night.  Mr Domke’s scoring is very, very kind to the professor.

  • Gatbsweet

    Mrs Warren won.  She spoke as a candidate  and was deliberate.  Mrs Brown was disrespectful and not honest.  He appeared very uncomfortable. His reference to Mrs Warren’s native blood by looking at her was ignorant and astonishing.

    • Guest

      Thank you for that observation – I was shocked an offended at his statement that she is “clearly not” a decendant of a native american based solely on her looks.  I wonder how much Mr. Brown resembles all of his great-great grandparents? 

      • http://www.facebook.com/joel.lazewatsky Joel Lazewatsky

         Actually, in this case, great-great-great grandparents, I think….

  • maraith

     Senator Brown struck me as angry.  I suppose if he’s losing and didn’t expect to be, then that’s understandable.  But not in a debate against a well-informed opponent.  Brown tries to play both sides but votes on the GOP side 80 or 87% of the time (according to several reports).  That’s not bi-partisan, folks.  He goes around the country raising money from Republicans and saying how his election will ensure the GOP controls the Senate.  Then he claims that Warren should not bring up Senator Imhofe who is a good example of what we will have running the Senate if Brown and his ilk win.
    He seems like a desperate man trying to keep his job after voting against the views of most of his constituents.  He cannot be gone soon enough for me.


    By claiming to be a Native American, she took the slot for a “real” minority applicant.  I think everyone can agree that, regardless of how you feel about affirmative action, that’s a MAJOR no-no.  Except for some vague references to obscure family lore, she has NEVER laid out the facts or released her records to disprove this blunder.  Personally, I think this is really going to hurt her. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/joel.lazewatsky Joel Lazewatsky

       So, what do you expect her to do? Other than doing what she did, her choice is either to lie about it or never to accept another job since that would be supposedly taking a slot “reserved” for a minority. Well, so what? She is just as much a native American as Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, who is only 1/32 Cherokee.
      And besides, isn’t that what that sort of thing is for? Why punish her for it? Even though it didn’t figure into any hiring decisions, it could have and would have served the intended purpose. This whole business is just plain ridiculous.
      The worst of it is that the Republicans who have raised this whole non-issue are opposed to such set-asides in the first place!!!


    I also am a little surprised that Warren claims to represent the little guy, but she lives in a house worth OVER $5 MILLION.  I thought only the 1% lived in houses that big?!?

    • Joe

      The Huff-Brown household owns at least 5 homes between primary residence, vacation residence and rental properties.  I thought only the 1% owned that many houses…

  • http://twitter.com/dougscripts dougscripts

    Her “nice man” sounded a little dismissive but sincere. His “nice lady” was condescending.

  • John Abraham

    Brown charging Warren making huge salary and perks is hypocritical. He and she live the american dream. The question relevan to me is who will make that dream possible for average people.
    Brown is likely to keep the billionaires and millionaiers even richer. Warren is likely to help the average and poor families better.

  • midtempo

    I can’t believe Senator Brown brought up the American Indian thing.  It is infantile.

    • Mbelyeassc

      It’s infantile to ignore major character questions against a liberal but then breathe fire every time a republican or conservative says anything even remotely politically incorrect. She claimed to be a minority when she applied for every college job in her career. That’s disgusting.

      • midtempo

         I suppose the issue resonates with some people.  Did you know that many card-carrying tribe members in the US have about the same amount of Indian blood (1/32) that Elizabeth Warren has?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.lazewatsky Joel Lazewatsky

    So, tell me, what’s wrong with a “nuanced approach”? Is that now a pejorative? I’d certainly prefer that to the “ham-handed approach” or the “invade-now-ask-questions-later approach” we saw during much of the last Bush administration.

  • McKenzie

    Sen. Scott Brown spent his airtime last night masquerading as a good ol’ boy who you and I can sit down with for a beer after a day on the job, except that he’s a rich boy Republican lawyer. He knows he’s got to win in a Blue State, so he pretended to be a ‘Republican in name alone’ with fake-outs aimed at women, working people, and unions. That truck and barn coat aren’t fooling me.

    Warren let us see through his chivalry posturing. His “house full of women” and tearjerker childhood story don’t translate into how he’s voted as a senator. He’s voted against women’s rights to equal pay, contraception, and abortion. With that voting record, he’s not going to woo women with old fashioned tales of his benevolent sexism. He said he’s not going to “pit women against their church and their faith,” and so he’ll allow employers to deny contraceptive insurance coverage. That showed that he’s not up-to-date with the values and birth control practices of the average American Catholic women of child-bearing age (since c. 1965). Maybe the under-age-40 voters aren’t important to him.

    Warren reminded us that Brown’s a Republican who votes like one. When it’s counted, he’s voted down party lines. He voted against nominating a Pro-Choice Supreme Court justice, against updating our energy investments to reduce our dependence on oil and foreign nations, against environmental protection, and against closing tax loopholes for millionaires that would’ve helped workers, students, and families, and yet he’s voted for increasing taxes on the middle class and for giving more money away to industries that don’t need it. Where’s the “moderate” there? PS, he wants to “draw a line in the sand” with Iran? There’s a difference between preventing nuclear development and asking for a war, which Americans have had quite enough of recently.

    From the get-go, Brown tried to distract voters from the issues and attempted to assassinate Warren’s character. He looked desperate to mislead with the “personnel records” speech about her Native American ancestry, like a Birther, swaying no one’s vote in his favor on that point. I thought he would distance himself from that and leave it up to the Citizen’s United SuperPac groups to do his dirty work in ads. Brown kept calling Warren “Professor”, bringing up Harvard like it’s a bad thing (why? to make us jealous of Warren?), and trying to make something of Warren and her husband’s income. Except, Mass. knows that Brown’s a Tufts University and Boston College grad, has a JD, and heaven knows a real estate lawyer such as Brown and his TV reporter wife ought to be raking in the dough. That’s been the Republican strategy since campaign strategist Karl Rove got in on their act: make the opponent’s strengths look like weaknesses. Calling Warren “Professor” constantly would’ve been as phoney as if Warren had called Brown “Colonel.”

    Finally, Brown pulled cheap punches and hit below the belt. It looked like Brown had been fed more catch-phrases and weird rogue points to spew than Warren. She could’ve had more points but she hammered into memory those she did have and got it right focusing on Brown as a Senator and Brown as a Republican. Brown reduced his like-ability by breaking debate rules and getting real smug. He came off more like talk radio show commentator than someone who ought to work in US Congress. 

  • Sinclair2

    Scott Brown was a part-time real estate lawyer passing papers for newly purchased homes.  He also is a part-time two-day-per-month JAG officer (lawyer) with the National Guard.   That’s the extent of his legal experience.  Elizabeth Warren is a leading professor and legal scholar at Harvard Law School.  She has spent a lifetime developing herself professionally.

    Brown still talks like he’s from the streets from which he came.  He still speaks rapidly like a high school kid and that’s where he appeals to the “regular guy”.  The average person doesn’t develop their verbal communication skills unless they’re employed in a professional workplace.  This is why the average guy identifies with him because he sounds like an everyman.  Add a barncoat and a pickup truck and there you have it; a phony recipe for a bogus politician. 

    Scott Brown never interacted in a professional workplace requiring an improvement in his speaking, nor has he worked in an environment where he needed to develop himself.  Self development ended when he passed the bar exam several years ago.

  • Sinclair2

    If anyone is familiar with Oklahoma, it’s quite common to run into white Oklahomans who proudly claim they are part Native Americans.  In the score keeping world of Affirmative Action, academia, and especially defense contractors, they’re always claiming minorities who are only fractions, etc., because of gevernment pressure to hire minorities.  Employees innocently offer this information with a sense of pride and the company’s welcome it.  We are a country where ethnic pride now runs deep.  It wasn’t long ago when people hid their identity if they were not mainstream anglo saxon or Irish American.  It wasn’t long ago when families changed their last names to hide their ethnic identity.

  • TS Boston

    Really, you call that debate a tie? The strongest thing Scott Brown had going for him waxy his likeability. He threw himself under the bus with the overly aggressive attacks, snide comments and snears. Elizabeth Warren’s biggest perceived weakness was that her opponents have called her a radical. She showed that nothing could be farther from the truth.
    Brown was a clear winner of this first debate. To say otherwise only raises questions about your objectivity and demonstrates a clear bias.

  • airmail56

    Sad so many libs are comfortable with Warrens fraud. You have to wonder if there was perhaps a more deserving canidate for the position she aquired thru her false claim.

  • Sinclair2

    Check out the latest news on Brown’s charge that Warren helped the insurance company fight against the asbestos claims.  She actually helped the asbestos workers when hired by Travelers Ins. Co. to help unravel a complicated settlement.  The attorney representing the workers and the asbestos union officials showed up at BROWN’s headquarters to defend her and to praise her work!

    Scott Brown is a phony clinging to twisted stories resulting in nonsense. He’s desperate now and this foolish claim could kill any chance to win.

  • airmail56

    Elizabeth Warren Admits She Is Not Licensed to Practice Law in Massachusetts

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