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opinion | Dante Ramos

A national race writ small

If not for passing references to Friendlys, the “Big E,” and Bristol Community College, you’d barely know that Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren are fighting for a US Senate seat in Massachusetts.

In Wednesday’s debate in Springfield, moderator Jim Madigan asked about potential areas of job growth in the region, and about why electronic medical records weren’t cutting costs in the state’s biggest economic sector. What he got was a presidential debate writ small: Warren and Brown alike kept going back to military cuts, entitlements, the deficit, and Obama-care.

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The heavy emphasis on national themes is more of a missed opportunity for the Republican incumbent than for Warren, who’s lashed herself tightly to a Democratic president who won 62 percent of the vote in Massachusetts in 2008. Brown keeps stressing his departures from GOP orthodoxy on abortion and playing up his local roots.

But there are, in fact, some local issues. Brown glanced in this direction a few times, bemoaning, for instance, an Affordable Care Act tax that targets the medical device industry. Yet you could imagine a much more robust debate on matters affecting the state’s knowledge economy — about whether tax breaks for venture capitalists fuel startups or just enrich plutocrats, or about whether forced efficiencies in health spending jeopardize Boston’s big-name hospitals. Instead, the Obamacare-deficit-abortion tape keeps repeating.

Warren delivered her lines, and parried her opponent’s, more crisply than Brown did. But both campaigns should know: We get it. We get that Brown would work in a bipartisan way, and that Warren would be a vote against GOP control of the Senate. To close the deal, both Brown and Warren might want to zero in on the peculiar issues facing Massachusetts.

Dante Ramos is deputy editor of the Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @danteramos.
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