Brown rejects debate after Kennedy widow refuses to stay neutral

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said Tuesday he would not attend a debate sponsored by the Ted Kennedy Institute after the late senator's widow refused to say she would remain neutral in the state's politically-charged Senate race.

"We respect Vicki Kennedy's decision, but we regret that we cannot accept a debate invitation from someone who plans to endorse Scott Brown's opponent," said Brown campaign manager Jim Barnett in a statement. "The Kennedy Institute cannot hold itself out as a nonpartisan debate sponsor while the president of its board of trustees gets involved in the race on behalf of one of the candidates."

Debate sponsors sent the Brown campaign a letter — obtained by the Boston Globe in which they say Brown's request for Kennedy's widow to remain neutral as a condition for attending the debate was "inappropriate."

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“Given the goodwill and understanding of the non-partisan mission of the institute that Senator Brown has thus far shown, it seems inconsistent that he would now attempt to restrict the activities of Mrs. Kennedy as a condition of accepting a debate that is co-sponsored by an organization with which she is affiliated,” the letter reads.

“This non-endorsement pledge is unprecedented and is not being required of any other persons or entities,” it continues. “To us, such a pledge seems inappropriate when a non-media sponsor issues a debate invitation. We can assure both campaigns that the debate will be fair, just as the one we cosponsored between Senator Brown and Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010 was fair.”

Vicki Kennedy has not formally endorsed Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren but most assume she will do so.

On Monday, Brown's campaign issued a letter tentatively accepting to appear at the debate, as long as Kennedy pledged to stay neutral throughout the contest and MSNBC not be allowed to air the debate.

"In order to proceed, we need to know that in keeping with the spirit of neutrality expressed in Vicki Kennedy’s letter that she will not endorse or otherwise get involved in this race,” Barnett said in a letter to the institute.

The debate officials said Tuesday they had not yet contacted the network about possibly airing the debate, but would be open to other networks carrying the contest.

Brown won a 2010 special election to succeed Kennedy after his death, becoming the first Republican elected to the Senate from Massachusetts since 1972.

Barnett added that they would be amenable to former NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw moderating the debate, as had been proposed by the Kennedy Institute's offer.

“Furthermore, while we accept Tom Brokaw as a moderator, we prefer debates with local media sponsors, not out-of-state cable networks with a reputation for political advocacy,” Barnett wrote. “We are confident that issue can be easily addressed as there are a number of Massachusetts media outlets that would be willing to sponsor a debate such as the one you are proposing for the Kennedy Institute, and I’m sure they would be pleased to have Mr. Brokaw as moderator.”

Thus far, Warren and Brown have only been able to agree to two televised debates, both to air on local Massachusetts channels. The campaigns have been sniping over the logistics of the contests, with each attempting to gain an upper hand with more favorable moderators and forums.

This post was updated at 2:38 p.m.