SPRINGFIELD – Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren both believe that too many people remain out of work. And they both think that the cost of higher education is too high.
But last night, Brown and Warren didn’t see eye to eye on too much else.
The two clashed mightily over jobs, health care, and taxes and spending in an hour-long debate at Springfield’s Symphony Hall.
Brown, throughout much of the contest, tried to portray himself as a bi-partisan, independent thinker, saying that he’s only voted with his party 54 percent of the time. And he tried to hammer in the point that he’s the candidate who won’t raise taxes for anyone.
But Warren – who tried to paint herself as the candidate who’ll fight for the middle class – attempted to loop him in with establishment Republicans, and accused him of standing with the wealthy and big corporations.
“Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of Sen. Brown’s first vote against jobs,” Warren said at the outset of the debate, faulting the state’s junior senator for voting against three bills during his time in the Senate that she said would have helped to create jobs. “Sen. Brown made it clear with that bill where he stands. … He stood with millionaires, not those who are out of work.”
Brown repeatedly defended his record from Warren throughout the duel, and said that the job bills he voted against would have cost American taxpayers more money. He also noted that he supported a jobs initiative that was backed by President Barack Obama in July.
“(Tomorrow) is also the one-year anniversary of me protecting people’s pocketbooks and wallets, and making sure that $450 billion didn’t go out of the private sector into Washington so they could spend it,” he said. He noted that more regulatory and tax certainty would help to curb unemployment, while his challenger called for more investments in education and research to boost job creation.
The contrasts between the two candidates were reflected throughout the night, and each of them traded jabs over how to solve many of the nation’s and state’s woes.
When question over what she would do to cut down the costs of higher education, Warren criticized Brown for voting against a bill earlier this year that would have frozen student loan interest rates – the measure was opposed by many Republicans because it would have increased taxes for some in the private sector. And she said that more money needs to allocated to community college systems.
Brown, though, said that high administrative costs are partly responsible for the high costs of college. And he lambasted Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, for getting a 0 percent interest loan through the university and receiving an annual salary of about $250,000.
“The driving force behind the cost of education is administrative costs,” he said.
The debate – which was moderated by Jim Madigan of Springfield-based PBS affiliate WGBY and sponsored by a number of area news outlets, Western New England University and the University of Massachusetts – was the third televised gathering between Brown and Warren. The two will meet for a final time in Boston on Oct. 30 – one week before Election Day.
The tone of the contest was slightly different than the vibes that were given off at the two prior match-ups. And Brown, notably, did not raise questions about Warren’s Native American heritage claims – something that had become a flashpoint at the two other debates.
But for much of the gathering, the two candidates stuck their agendas – and reiterated talking points that were mostly already known.
At one point, the two sparred over health care costs and initiatives.
Brown, who supported the universal health care bill enacted in Massachusetts by former Gov. Mitt Romney, said he would vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has commonly been referred to as “Obamacare.” He said that the initiative boosts taxes and takes away funds from the Medicare program.
“The federal bill, which my opponent supports and I don’t, actually raises taxes,” he said.
But Warren challenged the notion that under the act, money is taken out of the Medicare program.
“Sen. Brown has doubled down on a number that’s simply not true,” she said.
Elsewhere, the two candidates briefly quarreled on what defines the middle class.
Brown said the middle class “comes down to people’s incomes,” and he accused Warren, whom he said claims to be fighting for the middle class, as someone who has actually fought for big corporations – citing her past legal work with Travelers Insurance on lawsuits related to asbestos cases, an issue that has become a talking point of the campaign in recent weeks.
Warren, meanwhile, highlighted her work as one of the founders of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and said that she’ll continue fighting for middle class workers.
The two – who both support abortion rights – also engaged in an exchange on women’s issues.
Warren criticized Brown over his vote on a bill that sought to establish equal pay for equal work, his vote against approving Elena Kagan to a post on the U.S. Supreme Court and his support for the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny workers birth control coverage for religious purposes.
Brown said, though, that he does support equal pay measures, and noted that he voted against approving Kagan to the bench because he thought she didn’t have enough judicial experience. He also said that he supported the Blunt Amendment because it would have shielded religious institutions from providing things that they find morally objectionable.
“I’m not going to be pitting Catholics against … their faith,” he said.
Both candidates came into last night’s debate just a day after two new polls were released showing that the election could easily go either way.
A poll released Tuesday by Boston-based NPR station WBUR and the MassInc Polling Group gave Brown a slight edge over Warren among likely voters, 47 percent to 43 percent. But another survey released the same day by UMass showed Warren leading Brown, 48 percent to 46 percent.
William Perkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.