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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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