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Wednesday's debate was fairly even, but I’d give a slight edge to Sen. Scott Brown. I’d score it as similar to the latest WBUR poll — Brown 47 percent to Elizabeth Warren’s 43 percent.
Ardent Warren fans no doubt saw it differently. They enjoy her earnest, lecturing style, and probably wouldn’t suggest that she change a thing. So she doesn’t.
On most of the 10 criteria in my new do-it-yourself debate scorecard, it was a draw.
CLOSING — Who made the most favorable last impression?
DRAW. Brown delivered a solid closing, but the only new wrinkle was his saying that his voting record was much more bipartisan than the Senate Republican, Richard Lugar, who Warren had named as someone she could work with, if elected. Warren closed by talking about her drive out to Springfield, and then swerved from theme to theme.
SOUNDBITES — Who had the most quotable, compelling lines?
BROWN. Brown made a strong populist argument about struggles of the middle class. He argued against raising taxes during a recession, warning that the federal government and special interests had an insatiable appetite: “They’re like pigs in a trough up there, who will take and take and take.”
CONVICTION — Who spoke more genuinely and passionately about their issues?
WARREN. Warren seemed agitated at times, and her body language was odd — staccato gestures, and finishing statements with a head nod. But she was assertive and confident. Her supporters were enthusiastic about her charging that Brown “was not there for women” on certain bills. Brown was steady, but a little subdued. That worked in his favor when Warren fans in the audience booed him at one point.
CONTROL — Who kept the opponent on the defensive most effectively?
DRAW. On health care, it was even. Same on taxes. Brown zinged Warren on helping drive up the cost of higher education by being paid $350,000 to teach one class at Harvard Law School, receiving a 0 percent interest loan and free housing. Brown knocked Warren for claiming to be a champion of the middle class but was paid large fees by big corporations, like Dow Chemical, and having her campaign directed by lobbyist Doug Rubin. Warren attacked Brown for being Republican, against raising taxes on the rich and insufficiently pro-women.
NEWSWORTHY — Who said something new and worthy to generate publicity?
WARREN. Her criticism of Brown on women’s issues might have been her first solid punch in the debates, so it will probably get more play in news coverage.
MISTAKES — Who was best in avoiding gaffes and factual errors?
DRAW. Warren said, "I'm proud to be from Massachusetts again." That wasn’t really a gaffe, but it unintentionally reminded voters she previously lived in Oklahoma and Washington, D.C. Brown erred in saying “Cadillac tax plans” instead of “health plans.” Overall, there didn’t seem to be a glaring mistake that should hurt either candidate.
CONNECTION — Who was better in relating to folks watching at home?
BROWN. Brown sounded genuinely concerned when speaking about the problems of the middle class, recounting his early days in fighting to keep property taxes down. Warren sounded like she was trying too hard with scripted lines. As Bill Clinton would say, she didn’t seem like she felt your pain — unless you were a college student loaded with debt.
STRATEGY — Who best fulfilled his/her strategy (Brown wants to focus on character and bipartisanship; Warren focuses on liberal policies and party control of the Senate)?
DRAW. Brown depicted Warren as hypocritical — for making a lot of money as a lawyer for big corporations, and for profiting from 0 percent loans and free housing from Harvard, while claiming to be a champion of the middle class. Warren framed Brown as too beholden to the GOP, Mitt Romney and millionaire donors.
EXPECTATIONS — Who did better than expected — better than the previous debate?
DRAW. Brown was better than in the first debate, but not as persuasive as in the second. Warren was not as impressive as in the first debate, but better than in the second.
POLLS — Who do you think will get a bounce in polls as a result of the debate?
DRAW. The broadcast audience for the western Massachusetts debate probably wasn’t very big. And there were no great revelations, so the dynamic of the race shouldn’t have changed much.
Interestingly, the first presidential debate probably had far more impact on this Senate race than this Senate debate. Warren had been riding President Obama’s coattails and moving ahead of Brown in the polls as a result of the president’s popularity. But with Romney’s unexpected win in the debate, Obama’s coattails have shrunk and Brown looks stronger.
The next Senate debate, on Oct. 30, could be pivotal. After that one, we won’t hear either candidate say what Obama said about his first debate: “I was just too polite.”
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.
This program aired on October 10, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.
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