A word on stagecraft at these Senate debates: It’s better when the candidates sit. Somehow, they’re less testy when they’re on their behinds. Maybe they’re just less tired.
That’s one way of explaining why we saw a better, calmer, more articulate Scott Brown Monday night. In the last debate, he seemed tense, flummoxed by the clock. On Monday, he stunned the audience when he coolly told Warren, “I’m not a student in your classroom, please let me respond.” (Snap! You know he’d been holding that one in his pocket.)
For her part, Warren beautifully played a trap of a question from moderator David Gregory, about why Massachusetts has elected so few women to high office. women. “I don’t know,” she deadpanned. “Right now, I’m trying to do something about that.” Who knew that she had a sense of humor?
Both of them looked better when they talked about the issues than when they tried to parrot their opposition research. It’s as preposterous to think that Brown hates the unemployed as it is to think that Warren is a shill for corporations.
And they both had a weakness: naming names. Asked to cite his ideal Supreme Court justice, Brown started with Antonin Scalia, thought better of how that might affect his status as Mr. Bipartisan, and started throwing out names until he got to Sonia Sotomayor.
Warren, meanwhile, was asked to name a Republican senator she could work with. The best she could manage was “Richard Lugar,” the modoerate from Indiana who just lost his primary to a Tea Party guy.
That moment hinted at what’s actually at stake in this race. It’s not a matter of who cares the most about working people. This will be a vote about Senate dynamics, voting blocs, Washington power. One problem, for Warren, is that the answer to her question might well be “Scott Brown.”