SPRINGFIELD — Senator Elizabeth Warren went on a sustained attack Sunday against GOP challenger Geoff Diehl, trying to tar the state representative as an NRA flunkie, a supporter of offshore drilling, and a yes man for the president who “has defended Donald Trump’s ugly rants” and “embraced his dangerous policies.”
Diehl pushed back hard in the televised debate, saying he will always put Massachusetts first and that Warren really has her eye on the White House, rather than on serving a full second term.
“It’s obvious with Senator Warren that she doesn’t even want this position as senator. She wants to be president; we all know that,” he said. “She’s been campaigning in states that are more important to her than Massachusetts.”
President Trump dominated the discussion.
Warren appeared to take every opening to remind voters that Diehl was the cochair of Trump’s Massachusetts campaign and to tie him to the president, who polls suggest Massachusetts voters do not much like. Diehl, who lives in Whitman, tried to turn it around on Warren, accusing the Democratic incumbent of being “fixated” on Trump because she wants to challenge him in 2020.
The race’s second debate, moderated by WGBY’s Carrie Saldo and hosted by a consortium of Western Massachusetts media outlets, was largely a redux of the first face-off, with the candidates revisiting the Trump talk from Friday night’s tussle as well as many of the same policy disagreements. They sparred over the Republican-passed tax cuts, GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, gun control, and Washington’s response to hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico.
The debate was briefly interrupted by people in the studio audience who were yelling about Senate hopeful Shiva Ayyadurai, a Belmont independent who will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot but was not at the debate. Several hecklers were quickly removed by police and handcuffed.
Diehl repeatedly painted Warren as a bomb-throwing liberal, declaring her to be one of the main causes of the “poisonous political environment” in Washington. He, on the other hand, would have “a seat at the table” as a supporter of the current administration, he argued.
He turned a question about Trump’s name-calling into an attack on Warren, echoing the feelings of many national Republicans who have noted the heated rhetoric wielded by the Cambridge Democrat.
He said he doesn’t “follow the same path as the president” in how he deals with people, then declared that “my opponent has made comments that are pretty disturbing, as well. She said that anybody who voted for the president was part of an ugly stew of racists, OK? She said that when Republicans wanted to try to fix health care that we wanted blood money from the American people.”
In return, Warren kept pointing out positions and statements Trump has made that Diehl has supported or not challenged, from his defense of the president’s attacks on a Latino judge during the 2016 campaign to Diehl’s lack of comment when Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accords.
“Who does Mr. Diehl want to go to Washington to work for? He says he wants to work for the people of Massachusetts, but he repeatedly defends Donald Trump,” even when the president’s response to a disaster in Puerto Rico was to throw paper towels at a crowd and falsely claim only a handful of people had died, Warren said.
The official toll in Puerto Rico was reported as being nearly 3,000 deaths, a number that Trump has disputed.
Diehl objected to Warren saying he favors offshore drilling, arguing he said in a recent interview he was against anything that would hurt the fishing industry.
Warren rebutted with an excerpt from a 2017 radio interview in which Diehl said of offshore drilling that “any and all places where we can get that energy in a reasonable way I’m all for.”
Each expressed support for building commuter rail service from the western to the eastern part of the state. Western Massachusetts politicians have long been stymied in their efforts to move toward high-speed rail service between Boston and Springfield, the state’s third-largest city.
“This is one of my priorities,” Warren said, “to make the investments in infrastructure so that we can get high-speed rail from Boston to Worcester to Springfield.”
Diehl floated the idea of “private partnerships” for a rail expansion.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is studying the idea of an east-west passenger rail service from Boston to Springfield and perhaps as far as Pittsfield. A consultant has been retained, officials said, and the study will begin next year. It’s expected to take about 12 months to complete.
For all of her polish during the debate, Warren struggled to answer the question at the heart of Diehl’s attacks. Speaking to reporters after the forum, Warren dodged questions about whether she would serve out her full six-year term if she wins reelection, and if someone running for president can also be a full-time senator.
“I am working for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Warren said, the verb tense leaving open the possibility that she might be working for the people of the United States somewhere down the line.