The competitive U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts is getting feistier. Incumbent Republican Scott Brown has begun airing his first television attack ad against his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren.
Brown’s newly combative tone signals a new stage in the campaign. But it's a move that also carries some risk.
The Heritage Attack
The senator’s TV ad questions Warren’s character for identifying herself as Native American during her academic career. It does so by stitching together news reports.
"She’s facing tough questions about whether she claimed to be a minority for professional gain," an unidentified female reporter says in the ad.
"Warren did give an answer," a male reporter follows. "The problem is, it keeps changing.”
Brown lets reporters do the talking, but the TV spot reflects the more antagonistic tone that he’s debuting in his re-election campaign. Brown confronted Warren on the issue from the outset of their first televised debate last week.
"Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of color," Brown said as Warren looked on just a few steps away. "And as you can see, she’s not."
Warren has said she was told as a child that her mother was part Cherokee and part Delaware Indian and that she never questioned that story.
The Harvard Law School professor listed herself in law school directories as having Native American heritage, but said she gained no professional advantage.
Charles Fried, a member of the committee that reviewed Warren for the law school job, has said the subject of her ancestry was never mentioned.
New Tone's 'Peril For Brown'
Following the debate, Brown's newly aggresive style continued over the weekend. At campaign events, Brown strongly criticized Warren for representing an insurance company in a negotiation over a compensation fund for asbestos victims.
"The peril for Scott Brown is he could start coming across as too aggressive, too mean," said Tobe Berkovitz, a former Democratic media strategist who now teaches advertising at Boston University. "The voters liked him as sort of their friendly neighbor. And now, if he is sort of a politician wielding a knife, that is not going to be good for his image."
Still, Brown is not the first candidate in this race to air an attack ad. Warren took off the gloves first. She spoke to Brown’s more aggressive tone at a campaign event Monday in Dorchester.
"They’re holding nothing back,” Warren told an audience of hundreds of applauding union workers. “They’ll punch at any direction they can. But here’s what I gotta tell you guys: It’s going to be a fight; I am not afraid.”
But the campaign's sharpening tone will be tempered by a unique agreement between the two candidates. Brown and Warren have pledged to keep third-party advertising out of this race.
That means each candidate has to put his or her own name on each TV ad. That move may force Brown to risk his well-liked personality by going on the offensive against Warren. But with a U.S. Senate seat at stake, that's a risk that most observers say he has to take.
With additional reporting by WBUR's Fred Thys and The Associated Press
This article was originally published on September 24, 2012.
This program aired on September 24, 2012.