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.

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  • Blucaller

    Thought we saw a different debate till I notice at the end the author is a GOP analyst.

  • HaircutterRomney

    Republican analyst? what is that? Is this a joke, WBUR?  Why didn’t you just list Todd Domke as Todd Republican Domke??

  • Bbart34

    This is a waste of a web page;  nothing but shameless, partisan hackery.  Mr. Domke apparently thinks we’re too stupid to see through his bull.

  • Magpiemusic

    Scott Brown was as snarky as ever.  He is an immature buffoon that doesn’t know how to handle a woman that is so obviously more intelligent than he is.  I own a truck.  I live with a house full of women.  Doesn’t make a platform.  Scott Brown would flunk out of Professor Warren’s classes.  He’s just not a bright man.  I know him, personally, and it is unbelieveable that he represents anyone…  Scott Brown is about Scott Brown.  He swears at teenagers.  Cheats on his wife.  Acts so arrogant it is almost comical.  Please, Todd, you are too good for this scorecard.  I love your commentary on NPR, but don’t try to make this idiot look good!  I know you are a Republican, but come on!

    • Grogan

      You know Scott Brown, huh?  You KNOW that he swears at teenagers and cheats on his wife.  Frankly, WBUR, I think you should strike this above comment since it is an unsubstantiated personal attack.  Please save your “inside knowledge” for the Enquirer. And since your comment is anonymous it unfortunately doesn’t give others who know YOU a chance to tell what they “know”.  

      This sniping incidentally nullifies any assessment you might share here about the debate.

      • J__o__h__n

        He did swear at teenagers at an event at a school when he was offended by things that the students had written in response to his stand against gay marriage.  I have met both Brown and his wife and liked both of them personally and have never even heard any rumors of him cheating. 

        • Claiborne

          Brown did not swear AT teenagers. He repeated the words they said to him in calling them out in a public forum. Quite different. http://www.thesunchronicle.com/news/brown-won-t-apologize-to-students/article_9bbc45bc-dc2e-5b0b-93f8-9260baf2f6ea.html 

  • kbeausoapbox

    Todd Domke wasn’t watching the same debate I did. He’s showing only bias with this write up. 

    • Claiborne

      I don’t think there’s bias in this report.  A very much pro-Warren writer on this blog took a similar view on this website.  Read Dan Payne’s version. You’ll see that while he clearly dislikes Brown he gave the nod to him in the debate.  I think that validates Domke’s assessment.

      • Carl J. Britton, Jr.

        No.  The other commentator also got this debate wrong — and he only awarded a “win” to Brown (just barely) because he claimed Warren wasn’t aggressive enough in countering Brown.  But it wasn’t her intention to be aggressive — she was aiming for effective, and what I saw was her being even more effective in this debate than in the last.  (Moreover, women aren’t allowed to be aggressive in politics.  When a man is aggressive, he’s praised for it.  When a woman is aggressive, she’s called “school marmish” or “shrewish”.)

        What BOTH of these commentators missed was the unbalanced performance of the moderator.  After handing Brown the chance to start the debate — yet again — with the ridiculous “character” issues he has ginned up (which Warren put to bed tonight, if there’s ANY justice in this campaign), Gregory then gave Brown the lion’s share of the time to talk through most of the debate — letting him drone on for as long as he wanted every time he spoke.  But when Warren attempted to make her main point about Brown’s VERY partisan voting record — an argument which she began by saying it had three parts to it — Gregory tried to cut her off after her second point.  Then, after Brown’s snarky comment about “not being a student in [her] classroom” (a throwback to a similar jibe he leveled at Martha Coakley about “not being a defendant in her courtroom”), the first time Warren tried to stick up for herself (i.e., “be aggressive”) and ask for an opportunity to respond to Brown, Gregory jumped down her throat about “having had [her] turn” — when, in fact, Brown had spoken after her, and she had not had an opportunity to reply.  And so it went all evening.

        I am extremely disappointed that WBUR couldn’t do better than this pair of biased commentators.

        • Jane Duderstadt

          I too felt I was watching another debate than the Domke-Payne team.  In fact I was elated with Warren’s performance,  her intelligence, calmness and  articulateness. Her one blunder about naming a Senator she could work with actually was an apt comment on the Republican party’s current roster of partisan Senators.  She went on to say she would work with anyone else on Fanny May reform,  and I believe she has the expertise to do so unlike Scott Brown.  I found him wooden and angry in the debate and floundering in his answers to remember the talking points his staff provided him.  I thought too maybe the reactions I was reading from your pundits were because they were responding as men.  I’m relieved to see that other men have my sensibility  when it comes to the debate.  One last thing.  I think part of being a politician is the model you set for your followers.  Based on this criteria Brown has failed.  Warren on the other hand has succeeded and I have resisted removing Brown signs I see in my neighborhood–though it hasn’t stopped me from being disappointed in my neighbors.

  • TJohn76051

    I rate on hypocracy- Brown A+: on Narcicism Brown A+; On Underhandedness Brown A+
    on arrogance Brown A+; on Smugness A+

    Warren for the next 6 terms- 36 years. She can change a nation in favor of consumers-Warren A+

  • Jason Cor

    You can tell who Todd Domke is voting
    For come on be real .

  • J__o__h__n

    I usually find Domke’s analysis to be more objective than this.  I thought the debate was mostly a draw with Brown appearing to be a bit obnoxious.  Brown kept repeating the same claims of being a moderate and Warren didn’t effectively show that was false. 

  • J__o__h__n

    Brown B
    Warren B-
    Gregory B+
    Domke D

    • John_of_Medford28

      I agree essentially with your grading of Brown, Warren, and Domke.  I would of also included Payne and I would have graded him with a D+.
      I disagree with giving the moderator, Gregory a B+.  I only saw the first 3o minutes or so the debate, and I thought that at least in the first 15 minutes, Gregory allowed Brown a lot more speaking time.  So I probably would have given Gregory a B- or perhaps a C+ for the first half of the debate.

      • J__o__h__n

        He followed the horrible Jon Keller so I thought he did a better job and the dabate was lively and interesting.  I thought that he appeared to favor Brown on time but I’m a Warren supporter so I didn’t quit trust my judgement on that as I wasn’t closely monitoring it and just had my impression of it.  I’d give Payne a C-.  At least he didn’t focus on her looks this time.

  • Sam

    Gregory gets an F: the only job of a moderator is to ask good questions (some were, but several were awful), give equal time (clock it; how many times did Gregory cut Warren off  and let Brown run on?) and ensure fairness. Yes, Brown won on performance, but grading him higher than Warren on character, intelligence, personality, message and leadership? He came off, as usual, as a thug and weasel.

  • Erica

    Todd Domke’s analysis: D

    • razorfish

      Yo, Erica! Why not offer an argument? Maybe you felt that Elizabeth Warren was warm, engaging, brilliant, and inspiring. If so, why not cite examples from last night’s debate. Maybe you were favorably impressed that she couldn’t name a single Republican senator with whom she might be able to work effectively because you want the Senate controlled by partisan Democrats. Maybe you admire her ethnic relativism; you know, sometimes she’s white, sometimes Native American, depending on the situation. Maybe you were impressed by her list of big corporate clients; I know I was. She’s a very good lawyer, apparently, if you’ve got deep enough pockets to pay her. Anyway, let us know how you feel.

  • Guest

    Rather lopsided commentary. No surprise to see at the end of the article that Domke is a Republican analyst. 

  • comment

    Would love to see an analysis of how many questions Brown REALLY answered.

    When asked policy questions, Brown responded….with evasion. When asked about his close philosophical policy agreements with Mitt Romney, Brown didn’t answer the question. Brown wouldn’t give two things about Elizabeth Warren that he respected or liked. Brown couldn’t even come up with a straight answer after declaring his first choice of extreme conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as his most admired Justice, Brown kept naming names until the audience boos quieted down. Brown couldn’t even make a manly call on the Red Sox!

    Gregory’s question, as typical of his interview style, allows the interviewee to meander with prepared, pat responses just long enough to reveal who they really are on a couple of unexpected questions.

    Brown cooked himself  with three answeres.  1)admiring the positions held by Scalia (Brown disclosed that he will support the extreme right agenda), 2) not supporting diversity..namely the Dream Act (As seen in Brown’s commercials, he is trying to play only to his base of the white middle aged male…and yes a few females), and 3) using that bullying style so rarely seen in Brown’s prepackaged statements, yet anyone who has know Brown over the many years knows this bullying style is really the true Brown character flaw.

    • razorfish

      I’m not sure what supporting the Dream Act has to do with diversity. Senator Brown noted that there are four million people waiting in line to acquire US citizenship legally and that it’s unfair to allow people who are in the US illegally to jump ahead of them in line. The legal applicants are just as diverse as the illegals. This seems reasonable to me, though I would grant citizenship to anyone who serves in our military, which is one of the provisions of the Dream Act. Brown noted that Senator Reid won’t allow debate or modification of the Dream Act; only an up or down vote. This tactic seems designed to gain political advantage rather than to advance bipartisan legislation.

      • comment

         The Dream Act does not change anything for those who are “waiting in line”. Brown statements are incorrect, typical of how he evades answers to real questions.

        The Dream Act simply allows those very young people who are in this country through no fault of their own to avoid deportation.

        There are a few different versions of the concept http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DREAM_Act . None of these versions interfere with the purported four million people who are attempting to acquire citizenship through the established methods of citizenship.

        As to the legislative politics in the Senate and House, when as Grover Norquist has stated “when one group wants to go east and the other group wants to go west, what’s to compromise?”. As long as the Tea Party/Romney/Ryan/Cantor…and yes Brown…side of the isle refuses to consider anything other than far right ideology, and a strict “no compromise” position, then only the American people through the power of their vote can break the gridlock.

        • Guest

          “As long as [Obama/Reid/Pelosi] side of the isle refuses to consider anything other than far [left] ideology, and a strict “no compromise” position, then only the American people through the power of their vote can break the gridlock.”
          Goes both ways.

          • comment

             Who are you quoting in your comment…and please attribute the words in quotations to a specific statement made by someone other than yourself.

            The quote from Grover Norquist in quotation marks above were the exact words of Grover Norquist as he stated them on the Alex Witt show this year.   

  • jefe68

    One issue that has been bothering me. David Gregory was “keynote speaker” at a conference for a major Republican Advocacy group, the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
    He has constantly shown that he has favors towards the GOP.
    Gregory should be fired or removed from any news show that deal with politics and the very idea that he was the moderator. He wasted 20 minutes of the debate going on about Elizabeth Warren’ background for no other reason than to reinforce right wing talking points.
    The fact that the author did not catch this is very telling.

  • samuelpepys

    Bizarre analysis.  I felt bad for Brown at the end, assuming he was feeling as badly beaten as he seemed to have been (caught in every lie, unable to respond to questions he hadn’t practiced, fence-sitting even about Valentine!).  There’s something vulnerable about him, he’s not as smart or knowledgeable as Warren, and he clearly doesn’t get her points well enough to counter them rhetorically.  So though I took my hat off to her intelligence and her strong relation to “reality,” as Bush’s people used to call it with a chuckle, I did feel a heart-string tug there at the end for Brown.

    This review of the debate is pure fantasy.

    • razorfish

      Why not counter Domke’s “bizarre analysis” with some analysis of your own? Please cite examples of Brown’s having been “caught in every lie” and his inability “to respond to questions he hadn’t practiced” and instances in which “he clearly doesn’t get her points well enough to counter them rhetorically.” You may be right, but if you don’t support your assertions, your argument is only persuasive to those who already agree with your sentiments.

      • samuelpepys

         You missed my point: probably I wasn’t clear.  I wasn’t writing in to list Brown’s “misrepresentations,” as the eupthemism goes–that’s for fact-checkers to do, which I gather NPR doesn’t provide (why not?)–I was commenting on the article, which seemed to have been composed in a dream.

        But if you’re interested (you may not be, as these messages are too shrill and hostile to suggest you still have an open mind), you might recall that Warren did not claim Native American heritage in order to get a Harvard job but listed herself as such elsewhere to get in touch with others of her background.  (I have been to Oklahoma several times, and have friends from there–almost everyone seems to be part Indian in that state because of its traumatic history, and people who can’t or don’t bother to dig up paperwork–tough to do after government policies like e.g. the one that took Indian infants and gave them to white families in other communities or states to be brought up ignorant of their heritage–they still take their kids to pow-wows and participate in other ways in the culture that is part of their own.)  You might also look up the information on the asbestos trial that neither Brown nor the moderator would let Warren finish giving: why do you think the asbestos-workers union has so enthusiastically supported her?  There were many instances like this–my mouth dropped open several times during the debate.

        I had not previously thought of Brown as a bad person.  And as I said, I had some fellow-feeling for him at the end of a debate it seemed to me he had clearly lost.  Perhaps he is simply a malleable person, and had been instructed to try the lying strategy–Romney and Ryan have had some real success with it.  He certainly wasn’t as outrageous as Ryan, so maybe the old Brown resisted some of his spinners’ advice.  I don’t know.  But I do know that the article I responded to was either nuts or a shameful collusion.

    • razorfish

      For example, the most conspicuous blunder of the debate was Elizabeth Warren’s, when, in naming Richard Lugar as the only Senate Republican with whom she might be able to work, apparently didn’t know or forgot that Lugar had lost his primary and will not be in the Senate next term.

  • FrancisMcManus

    Domke is hired to be WBUR’s conservative political reporter, which isn’t to say I necessarily disagree with his findings.

    Hillar said Warren won.

    How about Keller?

    How about Payne?

    What did Charles Pierce say?

    Adam Reilly?

    That’d make an interesting read, comparative debate analysis.


  • Tejwani_01945

    So bad on Scott Brown’s part to say such ‘negative’ personal things to Ms.Warren.  I was born in India and nothing come to me on ‘sliver platter’ here in USA as Minority.

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