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political intelligence

Bipartisan Brown refuses to discuss debates with Democrats

Elizabeth Warren, left, and Scott Brown.

In a recent “Scott Brown Radio Report,” the Massachusetts senator touted his ability to work with all people of all partisan bents.

“The problem with Washington is that people down there are constantly battling,” he said. “That’s not how I operate.”

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The Republican — who rarely labels himself such — added: “We may call ourselves Democrats or Republicans, but we’re all Americans first. I’ll work with anyone to get things done. That is the type of senator I’ve been: open to good ideas, no matter who brings them forward.”

Except when they’re from his Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren.

Or when she is proposing debates in their nationally watched US Senate race.

Instead, Brown and his staff have refused to meet with Warren or her team to discuss invitations, dates, and terms for debates.

The Brown campaign has accepted debates unilaterally and issued take it-or-leave it declarations to Warren through the media. That has prompted the Warren campaign to respond in kind, with its own unilateral declarations.

The Brown-Warren race could determine the majority in the US Senate. It is one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities and, conversely, one of the Republicans’ greatest risks.

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It highlights the sharp tone Brown and his team have sounded throughout their campaign. And it could serve to undercut the bipartisan, problem-solving theme he touts not only in his radio ads but in appearances across the state.

Tension between the two campaigns is understandable, given the stakes of the race.

On a personal level, Brown will either win a Holy Grail in politics — a full, six-year US Senate term — or recede from the national scene after just two years in office. For someone already viewed as vice presidential timber if he is in the Senate in 2016, the election’s outcome matters.

On a broader scale, the Brown-Warren race could determine the majority in the US Senate. It is one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities and, conversely, one of the Republicans’ greatest risks.

If Barack Obama wins reelection, a Democratic Senate could help the Democratic president push his second-term agenda. If Mitt Romney wins election, a Democratic Senate could be a speed brake on a Republican president and almost assuredly Republican House.

A Republican Senate would give the GOP a clean sweep.

But those high stakes also explain why there’s such intense public interest in the race, and why there have been an array of debate offers.

Warren ignited the discussion moments after she won her party’s endorsement at the Democratic State Convention earlier this month.

“I’d love to see some debates with Scott Brown,’’ she told reporters during a heady moment on the convention floor. “Let’s get started on this. I’m ready.’’

Brown pounced, proclaiming the next morning he had accepted a debate invitation from WBZ-AM radio host Dan Rea. A day later, the senator announced he had accepted a second invitation for a radio debate, hosted by WTKK-FM personalities Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. The next day, another declaration: Brown had accepted an invitation from WBZ-TV’s political analyst Jon Keller.

By the time Warren had brushed the confetti from her hair, Brown had set the terms of their debates.

On the morning after Brown’s first debate declaration, Warren campaign manager Mindy Myers sent an e-mail to Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, asking if they could sit down and work out a mutual schedule. Barnett refused.

The Brown camp says that there were no debate negotiations during his 2010 special election contest against Democrat Martha Coakley, and that Brown’s Democratic predecessor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, always dictated the conditions under which he would debate.

Now the Brown and Warren campaigns are at loggerheads over a debate proposed by Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy.

Warren has accepted that invitation, as well as the TV debate proposed by Keller, and a pair of traditional televised debates proposed by media consortiums in Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts.

The only common ground with Brown is that he, too, has accepted the Keller and Western Massachusetts debates. Nonetheless, bipartisanship was the theme in an earlier “Scott Brown Radio Report” as well.

In it, the senator recalled serving time in Afghanistan last summer as part of his National Guard training.

“That duty reminded me that we need to put our country first and join together to solve problems,” Brown said. “Whatever else may separate us, we are Americans first. To me, that means we need to work together — now.”

Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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