SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren talked almost entirely about policy during their third debate in Massachusetts’ closely-watched Senate race. Over 2,500 people packed Springfield’s Symphony Hall for the debate, the only one scheduled in western Massachusetts.
The issue of Warren’s claims of Native American heritage never came up, after dominating the two previous debates. And while both candidates had their moments, Brown may have delivered the most memorable remark of the night when Warren said America’s middle class has been hammered recently.
“When you’re talking about getting hammered, Professor Warren, I suggest you put down the hammer, because it’s your regulations and your policies that are going to be hurting,” Brown said. “[It's] your policies that are going to be hurting middle-class families and every class of family in Massachusetts and in the United States.”
Warren occasionally gave direct answers. For instance, which two programs she would never cut and which two she would:
“I would be clear in terms of cutting the agriculture subsidy programs, and it is time to cut in our military budget. We are winding out of one war, we have ended another one. We can realign our priorities,” Warren said. “On the other hand, I want to make clear: I will not go to Washington to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits.”
Brown dodged the question, but seized on Warren’s suggestion to cut the military budget and related it to the two air bases in western Massachusetts and the people who depend on jobs there.
“When you’re talking about cutting military spending, with all due respect, we’ve already cut a half a trillion dollars,” Brown said. “That affects Barnes and Westover and many people in this room and people watching.”
Brown continued to try and portray Warren as someone who would raise taxes. At one point, he cited a study from the National Federation of Independent Businesses that said Warren supports tax increases that would cost 17,000 jobs in Massachusetts. But Warren was ready with a comeback.
“This is a group that endorsed Sen. Brown and other Republicans,” Warren said, “and refers to Ted Kennedy as ‘public enemy number one.’ ”
Brown had his moment a little later in the debate, when Warren touted her work helping to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“Listen, I commend you for your work on that,” Brown said. “I voted for it. It never would have passed if I was not the deciding vote on the financial reform.”
Throughout the debate, Brown emphasized his willingness to work with Democrats. It’s a strategy that has worked well for him. The latest WBUR poll finds that Brown does better among people who think it’s important that a senator compromises with the other party. Sixty percent of his supporters say this is “very important,” while 41 percent of Warren supporters say the same.
The same poll reveals that Warren does best among likely voters who care about which party will control the Senate. Seventy-one percent of her supporters say this is “very important,” while 54 percent of Brown supporters say the same. Warren spent much of the debate highlighting the times Brown has voted with his party.
With the two candidates locked in a tight race, the next and final debate is their last chance to change the dynamics.
This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.