Mr. Brown insists he’s no puppet of the industry. After pushing for changes that made the regulatory overhaul more palatable to bankers, he upset some by joining two other Republicans to vote for the final version, which included a controversial provision allowing the Federal Reserve to limit debit-card swipe fees.
“I voted for the financial reform,” Mr. Brown told The Washington Times. “I was happy to do it, and that was a bill, if I remember correctly, they didn’t want me to vote for. So I’m just going to continue to be that independent voter and thinker, and do exactly what I’ve always done.”
For her part, Mrs. Warren led the congressional watchdog panel monitoring the $700 billion Wall Street bailout passed under President George W. Bush, and became known for pushing for measures to give consumers more rights and protections from abusive lending practices. She later moved to the White House as an adviser to Mr. Obama on consumer finance issues.
She stepped down in July to return to a teaching position at Harvard and to run for the Senate, after it became clear her nomination to run Mr. Obama’s new Consumer Financial Protection Board would be scuttled by Republican opposition.
“I’ve stood toe-to-toe with the largest financial institutions in the country and sometimes with our own government,” she said at Tuesday’s debate. “I have fought with them over bank bailouts, I have fought with them over mortgages, I have fought with them over credit cards, I have fought with them over targeting military families for terrible credit products and, quite frankly, that’s what I think you have to do.”
Mrs. Warren faces five opponents in the Democratic primary: state Rep. Tom Conroy; immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco; Alan Khazei, co-founder of the nonprofit service organization City Year; Robert Massie, candidate for Massachusetts lieutenant governor in 1994; and engineer Herb Robinson.
Mr. Khazei took a jab at Mrs. Warren, reminding voters of the time she has spent inside the Beltway. “The Washington establishment will get their way, and the election will be over before it starts,” he said.
So far, Mrs. Warren is looking like a formidable opponent. While she hasn’t yet released any fundraising reports, she tops donations on ActBlue — a website that raises money for Democrats — with some 30,000 donors contributing nearly $750,000.
And although she joined the race in September, Mrs. Warren trailed Mr. Brown by just 3 percentage points in the first poll in the race, conducted Sept. 22 to 28 by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the Boston Herald.
Still, Mr. Brown held a 19-point advantage among independents and was supported by 16 percent of Democrats, compared to 6 percent support for Mrs. Warren among Republicans. He’s got a mountain of cash to try to keep that support, with nearly $10 million in his campaign coffers.
Observers agree that the race is wide open and almost certainly will attract hefty funding and logistical support from both parties.
“I think it will be very, very close,” said Douglas Kriner, a political-science professor at Boston University. “I think the parties on both sides will pump money into this race, and it will be a nail-biter down to the wire.”
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