An overbearing and at times ridiculously aggressive Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown came across as a desperate man Thursday night, as he attempted to gain the upper hand in the first debate of this year’s most closely watched US Senate race and, by extension, in a re-election contest that seems to be slipping away from him.
Brown attacked Elizabeth Warren, his surging Democratic challenger, from start to finish.
Warren, unruffled and showing the confidence of a woman who has moved ahead of Brown in most recent polls, sometimes rolled her eyes or shook her head in disappointment. She made her points about Wall Street wrongdoing and holding corporations to account, about ending the war on women and making sure Mitt Romney and a Republican Senate do not fill the next vacancies on the US Supreme Court. Brown could attack all he wanted, but the senator who joined fellow Republicans in trying to block President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the High Court could not change the reality that Warren was right when she said, “This really may be the race for the control of the Senate and the Supreme Court may hang in the balance.”
Warren was smooth and effective, “explaining things” with the same assurance that Bill Clinton displayed in Charlotte. It wasn’t always easy; as Brown interrupted at every opportunity—to accuse Warren of lying about her heritage, of attacking asbestos victims, of starting Occupy Wall Street.
But Warren never sweated it. She knew she had the winning hand. And she played it. Again and again.
In a very Democratic state that very much does not want Republicans to take control of the US Senate, Warren kept emphasizing that—for all Brown’s talk of bipartisanship and reproductive rights moderation—“It’s not about Senator Brown’s vote. It’s about the votes of all the Republican senators.”
Noting again and again that Brown had told Republican donors across the country that they needed to help him win re-election so that Republicans can take charge of the chamber, Warren kept returning to a basic theme: “This is about control of the Senate.”
That was a powerful message, and a correct one.
But the even more powerful message came when Warren declared midway through the debate: “This really is about who you want as commander-in-chief.”
In a state that once elected Mitt Romney governor but that will never vote for him again, Warren drew the line of distinction that her opponent feared most—and that Republican candidates in other states are view with mounting trepidation as the Romney campaign stumbles from candidate-created crisis to candidate-created crisis.