Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren to debate in Springfield
These 2012 file photos show incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in Boston. They will debate from 7 to 8 tonight at Springfield Symphony Hall. (AP File Photos) Purchase photo reprints »
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren enter tonight’s debate in Springfield in a familiar position, with the latest polls showing the two locked in a tight race.
The candidates have debated twice and each has launched negative ads aimed at undermining the other.
Two polls were released Tuesday, with one showing Brown ahead by four percentage points, and the other giving Warren a two-point edge. Both results were within the margin of error.
Tonight’s showdown from 7 to 8 at Springfield Symphony Hall represents one of the few remaining chances for the candidates to change the fundamentals of the race, analysts said.
“I think the bottom line is the race remains very close,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College in Easton. “I don’t think any one debate is a game changer, but what we have now in the Massachusetts Senate race is a decreasing number of opportunities for the candidates to gain momentum or throw up an obstacle in their opponent’s path.”
The poll released Tuesday by the WBUR/MassInc. Polling Group showed Brown ahead by 47 percent to 43 percent, a reversal from last month when the same poll gave Warren a two-point edge.
The latest poll suggested that Warren may be having some success in framing the race as a referendum on which party controls the Senate. Some 60 percent of the respondents said control of the Senate is important, with Warren scoring a 68 percent favorability rating among those compared to 56 percent for Brown.
And the other poll released Tuesday by UMass-Amherst suggested that despite Warren having a 48 percent to 46 percent lead, Brown’s attacks on Warren’s claims of Native American heritage could be taking a toll.
Asked to describe Warren by choosing any one word, respondents most frequently said “liar,” said Ray La Raja, chairman of the UMass Amherst political science department. That word was not even considered as a choice when the university conducted its first poll on the Senate race last December, he said.
“He will probably still go after her as not being truthful,” La Raja said of his expectation for tonight’s debate.
Maurice Cunningham, chairman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said he expects tonight’s exchange to mirror the previous encounters in Boston and Lowell.
“I don’t think there will be any game-changers,” Cunningham said. “She’ll be more policy-orientated, he’ll focus more on personal appeal. She’ll try to hang national Republicans around his neck, he’ll try to undercut her trustworthiness.”
All three analysts expressed surprise that Warren has not been more aggressive in tying Brown to the national Republican Party.
In the first debate, she made the point that Republican control of the Senate would mean James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who does not believe in climate change, would become chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“Candidates have to define these issues in a way voters can easily understand. Raising the name of someone they have never heard of, like Jim Inhofe, is not the way to do that,” Ubertaccio said.
The analysts said concerns about Medicare could be a potentially winning issue for Warren.
Brown has sought to walk a narrow line on the issue, distancing himself from Republican vice presidential nominee and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system for those under 55 while praising Ryan for seeking reform on the issue.
“If I were her, I’d make the argument that if Republicans win control of the Senate it’s bye-bye Medicare,” La Raja said. “Regardless of whether you like Brown, he is tied to a party that would radically change Medicare.”
Brown will be satisfied with the debate if he leaves with his bipartisan credentials intact, Ubertaccio said.
“The winning issue for Brown is a personality that lends himself to the idea that he is not an obstructionist, not a partisan,” Ubertaccio said. “Independent voters are really disgusted by what they see in Washington ... They are willing to give attention to someone who stakes their claim as an independent thinker.”
The UMass poll found advantages for each candidate that could be instructive about issues they will emphasize tonight. Respondents said they trusted Warren more on health care by a 45 percent to 29 percent margin over Brown, and on taxes, where she led 38 percent to 30 percent, La Raja said.
“To the degree that the electorate skews toward older voters, that benefits her, with issues like Medicare and Medicaid,” La Raja said.
Brown had a 37 percent to 22 percent edge on national security and a 43 percent to 33 percent advantage on the question of who respondents in the UMass poll believe is more likely to work with the leaders of the other party.
“People think he is more honest, more experienced and more likable,” La Raja said.
But crucially, respondents were almost evenly split on the question of who is more trusted to help turn around the economy, with 37 percent favoring Warren, and 36 percent giving the edge to Brown.
Analysts said they don’t expect tonight’s debate will do much to separate the candidates.
“What I expect to see is a continuation. I don’t expect them to say anything too much out of the way,” Cunningham said. “I think they’ll stay close until the very end.”