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opinion | scot lehigh

Warren hits her stride, while Brown stumbles

A petty performance by senator

Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren held their first debate Thursday night.

WBZ-TV News

Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren held their first debate Thursday night.

It was a good night for Elizabeth Warren — and an ominous one for Scott Brown.

Warren accomplished two important things. First, she cut through the fog on Brown’s tax stance. The senator talks as though he’s the tribune of the middle class. Warren, however, drove home the point that Brown would hold tax cuts for the middle class hostage to protect those for families making more than $250,000.

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Brown argued that hiking taxes on upper earners would be a serious economic blow. Conservatives are certain of that proposition, though history argues otherwise. Politically, that will be the real dividing line in the eventual congressional debate on the Bush tax cuts — and last night, Warren put Brown squarely on the unpopular side.

She also highlighted a political reality that helped kill Bill Weld’s Senate hopes back in 1996: A vote for Brown is a vote for Republican control of the Senate. And if the GOP takes control, Warren warned, that would put Senator James Inhofe, a climate-change denier, in charge of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency.

Brown’s retort — “You are not running against Jim Inhofe. You are running against me, professor” — was both nonresponsive and supercilious.

In pressing her case, Warren kept her tone reasonable and her focus political, not personal.

Not so Brown. His calling card is his supposed nice-guy-ism. But he often seemed petty and personal. It was an off-putting mistake to start the debate by attacking on the issue of Warren’s (undocumented) Native American ancestry. People open to deciding their vote on that matter probably already have. Further, suggesting that Warren is a hypocrite because she supports higher federal taxes on upper earners but doesn’t voluntarily pay more in state income taxes herself is an eye-rollingly silly attack.

Warren highlighted a political reality that helped kill Bill Weld’s Senate hopes back in 1996.

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Overall, Brown was underwhelming on a night when he needed to be senatorial.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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