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opinion | tom keane

Brown had a shaky start but finished strong

 Senator Scott Brown arrives for the debate.

associated press

Senator Scott Brown arrives for the debate.

Perhaps he was just harried from his late afternoon arrival from Washington, but Scott Brown made a weak first impression in last night’s Senate debate: stumbling over words, lacking mastery of the facts, and falling back on sound bites.

But over the course of the hour-long debate, the senator got better and it was challenger Elizabeth Warren who deteriorated. As Brown spoke, she was smirking and making faces a la
Al Gore. And once the questioning left economics — clearly Warren’s strong suit — she floundered, falling back on her own rehearsed lines (e.g., I’m not a professional politician) and pointedly avoiding Brown’s often sharp attacks on her high salary and work on asbestos.

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The first question was about character, and sure enough, it was Indian heritage time. Warren gave her by-now standard answers: It’s family lore and employers hired me on merit. Fair enough. Still, why didn’t she simply agree to Brown’s request that she release her employment records? Thus the issue — something that should have been just a one-day story — stays alive.

Still, the central concern of voters is jobs. Warren’s fundamental view is that government should boost employment by stepping up spending, and should fund those efforts with higher taxes on the wealthy. Brown doesn’t see public works as a cure, but Warren successfully made his refusal to consider any tax hikes on the rich — even for other programs — his weakest moment.

The remainder of the debate — on women’s rights, energy, military intervention, and college education — seemed the better for Brown. His job was to show he can steer a middle course and he did it well. Warren, on the other hand, came across as the more absolutist — even when she and Brown were in agreement. There was no knock-out punch for either, but plenty of fodder for what are sure to be a slew of new campaign ads.

Tom Keane’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at
tomkeane@tomkeane.com
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