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Warren Gets What She Needed: A 3rd TV Debate

This article is more than 7 years old.

Sen. Scott Brown’s handlers had been crying crocodile tears over a debate invitation from Vicki Kennedy scheduled for late September at the Edward M. Kennedy Center near UMass Boston. Brown’s people apparently want us to believe that the name on the door would attract too many Democrats. (These events are always ticketed, so Brown could have had plenty of friendlies in the audience.)

No Yahoos

The last time Brown was at the UMass site he faced Attorney General Martha Coakley and delivered his “people’s seat” line. By all accounts, including mine, he did just fine in what might’ve seemed a hostile environment. In fact, sometimes it’s a good idea to go into unfriendly territory precisely to show courage and composure. But Brown wasn’t in danger of being subjected to any partisan outbursts in 2010. Politically active Democrats in Massachusetts aren’t yahoos.

Why He Relented

Brown couldn’t keep ducking debates. That’s why his campaign suddenly accepted a third televised debate and the second hosted by a consortium of Boston-area media outlets. In the fall, he will need a debate or two to shore up his campaign. He has to avoid looking like a) a lightweight, b) a cocky frontrunner, and c) afraid of Elizabeth Warren.

No Simple Answer

As the Brownians always do, they couldn’t simply issue a statement. They have to embed within it a crude and irrelevant political shot at Warren. In agreeing to the new debate, they said:

We hope that Elizabeth Warren will stop dodging and join us next week so we can discuss the problem with her extremely liberal tax and spend policies and why they will kill jobs and further damage the economy.

Warren’s Dodging

The two debates Warren is “dodging” are two radio debates. The one next week would be on the nighttime radio show of Dan Rea, who definitely leans to the right and whose callers do, too. The other is for the Eagan and Braude radio show, which is probably the only program on their station suitable for sentient adults. The reason she hasn’t accepted them is because she doesn’t want Brown to be able to say, “I’ve agree to five debates. How many do you want?” Her people may also worry that she’s not that great on radio; she tends to be hyper and one former broadcast executive told me her voice is grating.

Keeping Vicki Neutral

When Brown’s handlers walked away from the Kennedy debate because Ms. Kennedy wouldn’t agree to neuter herself, they signaled that they believed she had real juice with the electorate. It’s unclear what role she will play, if any, but the Brownies created a debate flap to taint her as more than Ted Kennedy’s widow.

Coakley Vs. Warren

Vicki’s help for Coakley last time was too little, too late. There was supposedly no love lost between them, owing to Coakley’s premature campaigning for the Senate job before Ted Kennedy had been laid to rest. In order for Ms. Kennedy to get involved a second time in a campaign to fill her husband’s seat, she’d need strong assurances (a poll) that Warren has an excellent chance to win and that her help would make a difference.

On Their Styles

As for debates in general, both candidates need work. Brown is relaxed but comes across as an indifferent, mildly smug jock; he’s the last guy you’d want in your study group — he’d bring a six-pack, not the answers he was supposed to prepare. Warren is wound tight and can sound and look like a hectoring school marm; if not over-coached, she has a vocabulary that’s fresh. She should reject poll-tested jargon like “the middle class is getting slammed.” Who talks like that?

No Comfort

One presidential debate helped John Kerry vault into contention against George W. Bush. The same could hold true for Warren. In a tight campaign that has been like the TV show "Seinfeld" – about nothing – Warren needs to open lines of attack against Brown, who is adept at hiding in plain sight. She has to move Brown out of his comfort zone and make him explain why he can be trusted for six long years to represent a state that still votes overwhelmingly for Democrats.

This program aired on June 20, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Dan Payne Twitter Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.

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