Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, verbally pummeled each other for an hour in a debate Thursday evening, each trying to seize the title of middle-class hero and gain an advantage in their tight struggle for the Senate seat from Massachusetts.
Mrs. Warren spent the 60 minutes trying to paint Mr. Brown as a conservative — a liability in Massachusetts — by highlighting votes from his 2½ years in the Senate, during which he opposed legislation on equal-pay lawsuits, supported a bill that would have effectively overturned a requirement for employers to provide free contraception coverage, and, according to her, stood squarely on the side of big business.
“When you look at the votes, Sen. Brown is always standing over there with the billionaires and big oil companies,” she said.
But Mr. Brown fought hard to appear in the ideological center, three times citing his ranking by a congressional publication as the “second most bipartisan senator” and jumping on chances to point out areas where he agreed with Mrs. Warren.
The Senate race is one of the hottest in the country, fought between Mrs. Warren, a Harvard professor, and Mr. Brown, a rare Massachusetts Republican who managed to win a 2010 special election for the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
To halt Mr. Brown’s Senate career, Mrs. Warren must prevent him from snatching up too many votes from independents and moderate Democrats. For his part, Mr. Brown needs to persuade Massachusetts moderates that he can buck his increasingly conservative party in Congress and represent their views, even as a Republican.
Their tactics weren’t hard to spot in the Thursday debate, the first of four scheduled over the next month.
Mrs. Warren told the television viewers that Mr. Brown isn’t the moderate he claims to be — but took it even further, saying the election isn’t just about whether he wins a single seat, but whether he helps Republicans take control of the Senate, which she warned would lead to committees and legislation being controlled by conservative red-state Republicans.
“It’s not just about Sen. Brown’s vote, this is about the votes of all the Republicans,” she said. “Jim Inhofe the senator [from Oklahoma] would have supervision over the Environmental Protection Agency. And he says global warming is a hoax.”
“You’re not running against Jim Inhofe, you’re running against me, professor,” Mr. Brown responded.
When the topic of abortion came up, he insisted he’s pro-choice just like his opponent, even though he’s been endorsed by pro-life groups in the past.
Mrs. Warren has sought to tie him to the “legitimate rape” comments made last month by Rep. W. Todd Akin of Missouri and she continued attacking him over abortion-related issues Thursday, reminding voters that Mr. Brown voted against confirming Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
Mr. Brown partially defended himself by making reference to his early childhood, when he tried to defend his mother against an abusive boyfriend — a story he has often told.