Senate Democratic Candidates Spar At Easton Forum

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Five Massachusetts Democrats remain in the race to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in next year's election.

While Elizabeth Warren is considered a clear front-runner in the democratic race, the other candidates are not backing down. In fact, several are speaking out on some of the same economic issues that comprise the heart of Warren's campaign.

WBUR'S Bianca Vazquez Toness joined Morning Edition to discuss Tuesday's candidates forum on the Stone Hill College campus in Easton.

Bob Oakes: Tell us about what happened last night.

Bianca Vasquez Toness: It was raucous, actually. At times, I thought the audience, the voters, might revolt, because they found the questions frivolous. And the moderators didn't ask weightier questions on Iran, for example. One candidate in particular stood out for really pushing front-runner, Elizabeth Warren, on some issues. Listen to this question on Occupy Boston, and whether Occupiers should be allowed to bring in winterized tents. You'll hear Warren, and then immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco:

Warren: Everyone has to follow the law. Including the people on Wall Street. [applause and laughter from the audience.]

Franco: When you say that everyone has to follow the law, it really bothers me, because it makes a presumption that people are breaking the law--

Warren: — No it doesn't.

Franco: It does. Let me finish. You know what, Rosa Parks broke the law. There is such a thing called, as a tradition in this country, as civil disobedience. And the women who wanted suffrage, standing outside, Wilson didn't want to hear from them.

Bianca, was it just DeFranco going after Warren, what about the other candidates?

DeFranco was certainly the most aggressive. She really drew a distinction between herself and Warren in this debate. State Rep. Tom Conroy and engineer Herb Robinson did that a lot less. Listen to this exchange, when all the candidates agree that there should have been more prosecutions on Wall Street after market collapses in the sub-prime mortgage mess. Warren said funding of watchdog agencies is part of the problem.

Warren: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this is an agency that has the capacity to help hold Wall Street accountable. Some of the largest financial firms on Wall Street. It doesn't get all of its tools in place until it has a director confirmed by Congress. And what we have right now, is 45 senators — 45 Republican senators — who've said they will confirm no director.

But former federal prosecutor, James King, jumped in with this.

King: Let me just say that I wish the Consumer Protection Bureau was the most successful in the history of federal government.

Warren: Your mouth to God's ears.

King: But that's not where criminal prosecutions lie. And it's not where it should lie, it's not within their jurisdiction. And you don't need a lot of people at the bureau to refer criminal investigations to the Justice Department.

So they proved Tuesday night that they can maybe differ or bicker on some of the issues as they nibble around the edges. But are there really very many differences between these five Democrats?

Well, DeFranco appeared further to the left than the rest of the group. She said she was the only one of the candidates that supports single-payer health care, and no one disagreed with her. When the candidates talked about how to address the growing income gap in America, for example, Warren talked about investing in education. Whereas other candidates like Conroy and King talked about adjusting the tax rates, and DeFranco talked about strengthening the unions.

Give us a sense of the crowd last night, Bianca. What sort of reception did the candidates get from the several hundred people who were on hand?

Well, as we might expect, people responded well to Warren. The big surprise was DeFranco. People liked that she spoke out and that she appeared well-informed on a variety of issues. She mirrored the anger the people in the room have about economic inequalities and situation in this country right now. Listen to Kathy Godbottom from Weymouth:

I think the three men could go home. [laughs] I like Marisa, and I like Elizabeth. That's the second time I've heard both of them speak. I tend to support Elizabeth Warren, mainly because I think she's the one who's likely to take down Sen. Brown, and I'd like to see him gone.

By the time I left, there were two large groups of people swarming around Warren and DeFranco while the rest of the candidates looked kind of lonely. Voters, of course just like Godbottom, said that they felt like Warren would have a better shot of beating Brown.

This program aired on December 7, 2011.


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