Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Scott Brown pulled no punches in their second debate in the prominent and intense contest for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts.
The contenders, facing off before an energetic audience in a packed auditorium at University of Massachusetts-Lowell, echoed themes from their first encounter: Brown continued his focus on Warren's Native American heritage and corporate clients to attack her character, and Warren again hammered at Brown's record and his support for tax breaks for the wealthy.
But Brown argued that the race isn’t only about the economy and jobs, but also the character of the candidate -- and that Warren’s failure to answer questions about her heritage casts doubt on hers.
“Part of this race is also integrity and character and trustworthiness, and there’s a test you can take, and I believe she’s failed that test,” he said.
Brown also attacked Warren for working as an attorney for large corporations as they took advantage of workers and unions.
“She had an opportunity to side with the little guy and actually work, and once again when the lights weren’t shining and the people weren’t watching, she made a choice to side with the large conglomerate,” Brown said, trying to paint his opponent as a hypocrite.
Warren insisted that her legal work, and the bulk of her career, involved trying to help working families. She said a case cited by Brown actually involved her working to protect a fund established for asbestos victims.
"Asbestos victims have stood up and said that Sen. Brown is wrong," she said.
Warren went after Brown on his record, saying that he voted "in lock-step with Republicans" and for "millionaires and billionaires" to extend the Bush-era tax rates and against ending federal subsides for Big Oil.
“Just to put the icing on the cake, he voted against unemployment insurance extensions 16 times for people who are out of work,” she said. "Senator Brown has made clear where he stands.”
Brown emphasized that he was an independent lawmaker who voted for Democratic proposals almost as often as he voted for Republican bills. He defended the times he agreed with President Obama and would not commit to supporting Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as Republican Senate leader in 2013. He said he makes his decisions on a bill by bill basis.
“I’m completely disgusted as to what’s going on down there and he has a lot of work to do to earn my vote,” Brown said of Congress and the Senate Minority leader. He added that, as an independent, he doesn’t work for McConnell or Obama -- “I work for the people of Massachusetts.”
But Warren pointed out that, while Brown trumpets his independent voting record when campaigning in Massachusetts, when he fundraises around the nation he says he needs their support so that the Republicans will re-take the Senate and be able to block Obama's agenda.
When pressed by moderator David Gregory, Brown said he supported Mitt Romney's economic plan in general, but would have to read the specific proposals before voti g for or against them.
Gregory also pressed Warren to name a Republican in the Senate that she could work with. She answered Sen. Lugar (R-Ind.), a relatively moderate Republican who was defeated in his primary race by more conservative Richard Mourdock and will not be in Senate next year. When Gregory asked again, she answered in general terms.
“I will work with anyone -- Democrat, Republican, independent,
libertarian, vegetarian,” she said to laughs from the crowd, “if they
will work for America’s families.”
The candidates also clearly disagreed on immigration and Afghanistan. Brown said he was for legal immigration and opposed the DREAM Act -- which would open a path to citizenship under certain conditions for the children of illegal immigrants -- calling it "back-door amnesty." Warren said she supports the DREAM Act.
On the U.S. involvment in Afghanistan, due to end in 2014 when the last troops are removed, Warren said she'd like to bring the troops home "as quickly as possible," because the U.S. doesn't have a clear goal there.
Brown said that, while he believes naming an end-date on full withdrawal is "showing our hand" to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, this is one area in which he "would rely on the guidance of the president.”
Brown said his model Supreme Court justice was Antonin Scalia. Warren said hers was Elena Kagan.
But both may have bungled the last question question of the night, as far as Bay Staters are concerned. They were asked whether Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine should keep his job after the team suffered one of its worst seasons in history.
Warren’s response? Give the guy another year.
Brown declined to take a position.
Updated at 11:52 p.m.