Grading The Candidates In The Senate Debate: Scott Brown A-, Elizabeth Warren B-
The first debate was a draw because nothing happened that was really new or persuasive. And the new WBUR poll reinforces that conclusion. “The 40 percent polled who watched the first debate are split on who they feel won. Sixteen percent say Brown won, 14 percent say Warren did.”
But Scott Brown clearly won this second debate.
Coming in second was the moderator, NBC’s David Gregory, who immediately signaled his eagerness to debate the others by saying the format would be “Meet the Press style.” Thanks, David. We foolishly thought it was supposed to be a debate between candidates.
Here’s how I’d grade the candidates on the 10 criteria in my do-it-yourself scorecard:
PERSONALITY: Who did you like in terms of sincerity, affability and charm?
Brown, B+. Warren, B.
Brown might have been at his best most likable when he answered a question from a student in the audience about finding a job. He sounded a little like Bill Clinton in trying to offer helpful advice.
Warren, by contrast, seemed to talk at the audience, rather than to individuals.
CHARACTER: Who seemed honest and trustworthy?
Brown, B+. Warren, B-
Brown had Warren on the defensive on character issues for the first third of the debate, largely because the moderator began with the personal, controversial questions.
Brown countered Warren’s “I never asked my mother… What kid would?” line by saying that, as an adult job-seeker, knowing the significance of the minority claim, she should have sought evidence that it was valid. And she still had no answer to his request that she release her personnel records if her claim of minority status was not known or considered by those who hired her.
In general, Brown seemed more serious and less pleased with himself — no smirking — in criticizing her personally this debate. And Brown offset the tone of attacking by praising her professorial skills and saying “with all due respect” frequently.
INTELLIGENCE: Who was reassuringly smart — in knowledge, savvy, wisdom?
Brown, A-. Warren, B.
Brown sounded knowledgeable about policy and confident in explaining principles.
Warren, perhaps thrown off by being on the defensive for the first third of the debate and often interrupted by the moderator, didn’t impress with any new insights or arguments. Perhaps we expect too much of a Harvard Law professor, but she didn’t say anything that made you regret not attending one of her class lectures.
APPEARANCE: Who projected a good image?
Brown, A-. Warren, A-.
They both looked sharper than the third candidate, David Gregory. Nicer anyway.
RHETORIC: Who had memorable lines — clever, convincing soundbites?
Brown, B+. Warren, C+.
Brown was prosecutorial on the character issues, and made his case calmly and cogently. When she tried to stop him from continuing, he cracked, “I’m not a student in your classroom.” Fans of hers took offense, suggesting he was snide, but since she smiled in response and he smiled as well, it’s hard to make that out as a terrible insult. That’s particularly true since Gregory reproached her shortly after for similarly interrupting.
Warren made a gaffe when Gregory asked her to name a Republican senator she could work with if elected. She named Richard Lugar, who will not be in the Senate. Brown did not miss the opportunity to point out that it reinforced that she’s a total partisan.
Warren was also surprised when the audience laughed at her lame answer to the question of what she might say in praise of her opponent. She answered: his family. Her awkward response was a reminder that she is not naturally witty.
ISSUES: Who made the most effective arguments about policy?
Brown, B+. Warren, B-.
Brown sounded senatorial in the best sense, citing specific legislation and praising his colleague, Sen. John Kerry, as a potential successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Warren didn’t sound excited about many issues, after complaining that character issues weren’t important. She did disagree with Obama’s policy on Afghanistan, saying we should withdraw more swiftly, but then segued to talking about her brothers’ service in the military, rather than foreign policy implications.
MESSAGE: Who had a compelling, consistent theme?
Brown A-. Warren, D+.
Brown knew what he wanted to get across: He kept his opponent on the defensive on character issues (neglecting only the question of her practicing law without a license in Massachusetts); and he made the case for being independent, bipartisan and moderate.
Warren took a few shots at Brown for being a known Republican, but didn’t put him on the defensive about “Romney, Ryan, Rove,” as NECN’s Jim Braude said he expected. She was unfocused, by comparison with Brown.
MASSACHUSETTS: Who seemed most dedicated to serving the people of this state?
Brown, B+. Warren, B.
Brown emphasized that he grew up in Massachusetts, and made a few personal references to people here.
Warren didn’t raise any parochial hopes about what she’d try to do for Massachusetts. She tends to talk more about federal issues, rather than local problems.
LEADERSHIP: Who had the aura, stature and inspiration of a genuine leader?
Brown, A. Warren, C-.
Brown had a far better closing statement. And he was generally better at connecting with the audience — both the 5,000 in attendance and the larger number watching on TV.
Warren didn’t have any moments of exuding great strength or passion. In following her strategy of trying to ride President Obama’s coattails, she didn’t speak with much conviction. What happened to the confident, feisty populist who first entered the race?
PERFORMANCE: Who beat your expectations?
Brown, A. Warren, C-.
Brown was at his best — surprisingly good.
Warren did worse than in the first debate. And it wasn’t all David Gregory’s fault.
TOTAL: Brown, A-. Warren, B-.
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.