Republican Senator Scott Brown called Washington politicians “pigs at a trough” while Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren tied him to an attack on the late Edward Kennedy as “Public Enemy No. 1” during their third debate in the Massachusetts Senate race.
The comments ignited some of the biggest outcries from a live audience as the candidates faced off last night in an issues-heavy forum on jobs, education, military spending and women’s health.
With less than four weeks until the election, the race is one of the most closely watched and expensive in the Senate, where Democrats are fighting to hold a majority. The two have traded leads in polls for months.
“One thing we can’t do right now, in the middle of this three-and-a-half-year recession, is by taking more money out of people’s hardworking pocketbooks and wallets and giving it to the federal government,” Brown said. “They’re like pigs at a trough up there -- they’ll just take and take and take.”
The cheers from the crowd of about 2,600 in Springfield followed boos minutes earlier when Warren, 63, said Brown was using statistics from the National Federation of Independent Business, “a group that endorsed Senator Brown and other Republicans and refers to Ted Kennedy as Public Enemy No. 1.”
The citation came when Brown reiterated his opposition to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, in part because it would cost the state 17,000 jobs, he said. Brown, 53, beat Attorney General Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election for the seat held by Kennedy for almost 47 years.
The candidates were intent on distinguishing themselves from one another, Warren by spotlighting her support for investment in education and infrastructure and a balanced approach to budgeting that would include revenue increases.
Brown held steadfast to his pledge not to raise taxes. He repeatedly pointed to his more than 30 years in the National Guard and his position as a ranking member on the Armed Services Committee after Warren pegged military spending and agriculture subsidies as two areas where she’d cut federal spending.
“Your policies are hurting middle-class families and every class of family in Massachusetts and the United States,” Brown told Warren. “I’m not going to be raising taxes on any American.”
Warren said Brown and “the Republicans have a vision -- cut taxes for those at the top and let the chips fall where they may for everybody else.”
It was the only debate in the less-populated western part of the state, where Democrats enjoy some of their most concentrated support outside of Boston. While the area is “mostly Warren country,” voter surveys show Obama winning by bigger margins, said Raymond La Raja, who teaches political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Warren needs to better solidify the Democratic base to counter the lead Brown has among independents, who make up 52 percent of the electorate, he said.
Warren, a Harvard Law School professor, highlighted her role in starting a federal consumer protection agency under Obama and its success in returning hundreds of millions of dollars to people who had been cheated. Brown commended Warren’s work, adding that the legislation that made it a reality wouldn’t have passed without his casting the deciding vote.
The two sparred over who was the bigger champion of women’s rights. Warren said Massachusetts women couldn’t trust Brown 100 percent of the time and cited his support for employers to deny birth-control coverage on religious or moral grounds and his opposition to the Supreme Court appointment of a woman who supports abortion rights.
Brown accused Warren of cherry-picking his actions and used his personal narrative of being a husband and father of two daughters while pointing to his co-sponsorship of the reauthorization of the violence-against-women act.
Last week, Brown was met with boos when he cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposes abortion and gay-marriage rights, as his model jurist. Warren’s campaign used the comment in an advertisement as evidence that Brown’s views are more closely tied to the “extremist” national Republican Party than he’s sought to project in the Democratic-leaning state.
One point of contention, a focal point in the first two debates and throughout the race, was notably absent: Brown’s questioning of Warren’s claims to Native American heritage and whether they helped her get hired at Harvard. Brown has used the issue to question Warren on her honesty and trustworthiness.
He suggested Warren “put down the hammer,” a reference to one of her most oft-quoted lines that the “middle class is getting hammered” due to Wall Street greed and Republican economic policy. The six-figure salary Warren earns at Harvard is among a package of administrative costs that jack up the cost of higher education and saddle students with debt, he said.
“I went to a commuter college and I paid $50 a semester in tuition, and I’m proud to have made it where I’ve made it in my profession,” Warren countered. “But let’s be clear: I paid $50 a semester because America was investing in public colleges and universities.”
Brown invokes his bipartisan record often on the campaign trail and continued to do so during the debate as he seeks to hold onto his post as the only Republican in Massachusetts’ congressional delegation. Less than 12 percent of the state’s electorate is registered with the party.
Three-fifths of likely voters said they saw or heard one of the first two debates, according to the Western New England University Polling Institute in Springfield. About 31 percent said the debate made them more inclined to vote for Brown, while 30 percent said Warren. Thirty-seven percent said the debate made no difference.
The institute’s poll of 440 voters was conducted Sept. 28 through Oct. 4 in partnership with The Republican newspaper of Springfield and MassLive.com. The margin for error was plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Brown and Warren will debate for the fourth and final time on Oct. 30 in Boston.