In the second debate, Sen. Scott Brown had a consistent message: I’m independent; Elizabeth Warren wants to raise your taxes. Warren was put on the defensive when she was dealt a bad hand by moderator David Gregory. He made her Native American heritage the lead-off question, the second time that’s happened in two debates. The result: Brown declared, “She was white until she turned 38.” Crude, but memorable. In a nutshell, that’s how Brown handled himself.
Brown also punished her on her outside legal work in an asbestos case where she represented Travelers Insurance. Again, this was a question that came up in the first debate and her answer was no clearer than it was then. Either her campaign or Warren herself was not prepared for a tight, strong answer. She finally declared (too late) that it was a case of one insurance company suing another insurance company.
Warren wasn’t as poised as she had been in the first debate. She lacked a consistent theme (other than Brown’s siding with billionaires and millionaires). But her real problem was missing several chances to go after Brown for political blunders.
One of the juiciest may have been his embarrassingly sloooow answer when he was asked who his favorite Supreme Court justice is. When he finally said Antonin Scalia, Warren seemed audibly amazed, as did many in the live audience. Warren said Elena Kagan, but neglected to say Brown didn’t vote for her even though she was from Massachusetts.
Another blown opportunity occurred when Warren let Brown skate on explaining his silent support for Mitt Romney as a matter of geography. “He’s campaigning all over the country; I’m campaigning here.” In Brown’s world apparently you can only support someone if you happen to be in the same state as your candidate.
Warren not only didn’t pin Romney on Brown, she didn’t pin the GOP on Brown. What about Todd Akin? Should we assume Brown supports Claire McCaskill?
Brown doesn’t mind repeating himself. In fact, he seems to find comfort in the litany of energy sources he supports, like William Jennings Bryan in “Inherit the Wind” reciting the books of the Bible. Again, Warren let him off the hook on his refusal to support wind energy and siding with big oil while claiming to be a friend of the motorist.
Brown declared, without challenge, that he’s a union member — what a fat pitch that was! He’s a member of AFTRA-SAG, the actors and artists union from his modeling days. He wasn’t exactly a Teamster driving a beer wagon.
Warren needs some new material. “Fighting for middle class families” is a poll-tested cliché that has no edge. Who’s against middle class families?
Brown has an instinct for nativist rhetoric, using Warren’s ancestry as an attack on affirmative action, opposing the DREAM Act for letting illegals jump the line, finding ways to inject “Harvard” and “professor” into his snide answers.
The good news: Warren will get better. The bad news: If she doesn’t, Brown will get away with not paying a price for being a Republican in a state where the GOP candidate for president is going to get creamed.
Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.
This program aired on October 1, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.