TOPICS > Politics

In Blue Bay State, Senate Candidates Stress Bipartisanship and Independence

October 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1 in Massachusetts, but rhetoric coming from both sides of the contentious senate race emphasizes moderation and independence -- from Washington and from Wall Street. Gwen Ifill reports on the high profile and increasingly nasty contest between Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

RAY SUAREZ: And we return to politics.

The battle lines are drawn in this year’s Massachusetts Senate race, where a Republican incumbent is looking to survive in a blue state.

Gwen Ifill has our report.

RAY FLYNN, former Boston mayor: Yes, yes.

GWEN IFILL: For nine years, Ray Flynn, a staunch lifelong Democrat, was the mayor of Boston. This year, he’s working to reelect a Republican, Scott Brown.

RAY FLYNN: I see him with the veterans. He sits there and has a beer with the veterans and talks over all the issues.

GWEN IFILL: And they love it.

RAY FLYNN: They love him for it.

WOMAN: Your U.S. senator, Scott Brown.

GWEN IFILL: In 2010, Brown won the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy by playing up his blue-collar labor union roots, touring around the state in a pickup truck and making a direct appeal to the state’s independent voters.

RAY FLYNN: I don’t think people really identify with Scott Brown as a Republican.

I think they look at him as somebody who can really bring people together. You know what? His story is the story of most of the people that live in this community.


GWEN IFILL: Then there’s Tom Menino, Boston’s current and longest serving mayor. He waited until just a few weeks ago to endorse fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren, but now he’s counting on the Harvard law professor to beat Brown at his own game.

MAYOR THOMAS MENINO,D-Boston, Mass.: Just one of those phenomenons in this business where Scott caught everybody off guard. And he worked hard and he won. And I think, this time, everybody understands that he’s a very good retail politician.

And they’re all watching and they’re all working harder than they ever have in the past. I have never seen folks more enthusiastic about a campaign than the Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.

GWEN IFILL: The disagreement between Menino and Flynn reflects the stakes in a hard-fought and increasingly nasty Senate campaign, the nation’s most expensive.

Warren came to national prominence when she ran the panel that oversaw the National Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. With close ties to President Obama and to liberal fundraisers, her campaign announced today she’s raised nearly $37 million, much of it from out of state.

MAN: I will vote for you.

SEN. SCOTT BROWN, R-Mass.: I hope so.

GWEN IFILL: Brown, who has been known to praise Mr. Obama and Joe Biden as well, has raised more than $28 million. Brown tells supporters that Warren is not what she says she is.

SCOTT BROWN: She says we need to invest in this, we need to invest in that. Well, with all due respect, that’s code for need to take more money out of your pocketbooks and wallets and give it to Washington, where they’re happy to spend it.

GWEN IFILL: Warren, forced on the defensive in a race she was favored to win, insists Brown is more conservative than he is willing to admit.

ELIZABETH WARREN (D), Massachusetts senatorial candidate: Scott Brown stands with the millionaires.

Me? I don’t want to go to Washington to stand up for the millionaires, the billionaires, the big oil. I want to go to Washington to fight for jobs for working people.

GWEN IFILL: On a rainy Sunday morning, Brown rallied supporters at a local pumpkin patch, among them, Sally Russell, who has voted for Kennedy, President Obama and Brown.

SALLY RUSSELL,Massachusetts: I work very hard on his first campaign, which surprised me quite a bit.

I thought he would do a good job, and the circumstances where Senator Kennedy had passed away, and I think he was — I’m not sure I was behind him as a person, but as a senator I thought he was just outstanding.

GWEN IFILL: But at Town and Country bowling lanes in Shrewsbury, Diane Travers, a Democrat who supported Brown two years ago, said she’s not so sure about him anymore.

DIANE TRAVERS, Massachusetts: I got a good feeling about her. I did vote for Scott Brown the last time because I felt very good vibes. And I’m up and down, but I have got a feeling I’m going to go for Elizabeth this time.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1 in the deep-blue BayState, but Republicans have won here statewide before, including, of course, former Governor Romney.

But to win reelection, Scott Brown is counting on the uncommitted voters that make up fully half of the electorate to be his firewall.

SCOTT BROWN: We need somebody who is going to be truly bipartisan.

GWEN IFILL: To do that, Brown describes himself at nearly every campaign stop as part of a vanishing breed of Capitol Hill moderates, and Warren as an unrepentant liberal.

SCOTT BROWN: Why would you send another extreme person down there to be in lockstep with that agenda and create more gridlock? You wouldn’t do it. And you shouldn’t do it.

GWEN IFILL: Warren, meanwhile, portrays herself as the outsider Washington needs.

ELIZABETH WARREN: I talked to people before I was ever in the race. And they said to me, now, Elizabeth, they said, you have never been in politics before so you need to understand this. It’s going to be mean. It’s going to be the worst thing you have ever seen, but we sure hope you will do it.


ELIZABETH WARREN: I do have to say I think we need a better sales pitch.

GWEN IFILL: Pollster Steve Koczela has been taking the pulse of the state’s voters.

STEVE KOCZELA, MassINC Polling Group: The majority of independent voters in Massachusetts really do want Democrats to stay in control of the Senate. I mean, that’s one of the real uphill battles that Scott Brown has been fighting.

And that’s why you will hear during the debates he will say the word independent and bipartisan probably more than any other words.

SCOTT BROWN: If you don’t agree with my opponent, you know what she does? She attacks you.

GWEN IFILL: We caught up with both campaigns this weekend.

SCOTT BROWN: I’m a Republican from Massachusetts, so it’s always an uphill battle to do it better, be more available, to be more accountable.

GWEN IFILL: How much Democratic support do you need to win?

SCOTT BROWN: Oh, I don’t know. I will leave that up to the statisticians.

GWEN IFILL: You don’t know?

SCOTT BROWN: No. I’m just — I’m going to get a lot of Democrats and a lot of independents and a lot of Republicans.

GWEN IFILL: And what is it that you’re saying to them that appeals?

SCOTT BROWN: I don’t have to say anything. I just have to show them my record of being that independent person that they sent down there, the guy that is not beholden to anybody, because I don’t owe anybody anything.

GWEN IFILL: There is some concern that you’re going to be such a lockstep Democrat that you won’t listen to the other side.

ELIZABETH WARREN: No, I think that’s exactly the wrong way to look at it.

Look, the financial punches that have come at America’s working families have not respected party. They have hit people, whether the people were Democrats, Republicans, independents, libertarians, vegetarians. It didn’t make any difference. They just keep getting punched.

GWEN IFILL: Both candidates are counting on women voters in a commonwealth that has never elected a woman senator or governor. The airwaves are clogged with a round of ads with one accusing the other of bad faith on women’s issues.

WOMAN: I mean, all you have to do is look at his voting record.

NARRATOR: He had one chance to confirm a Supreme Court justice to uphold Roe v. Wade. He voted no.

WOMAN: I’m very disappointed.

NARRATOR: One vote to protect insurance coverage for birth control. He voted no.

WOMAN: Scott Brown says he’s for women, but he’s not.

ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m Elizabeth Warren, and I approve this message.

WOMAN: I want to set the record straight. Scott Brown is pro-choice. He supports women’s health care. And he’s for good jobs with equal pay. Scott will fight for our families. Coming from a house full of women, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

SCOTT BROWN: I’m Scott Brown, and I approve this message.

GWEN IFILL: The vitriol has spilled over into their face-to-face debates.

SCOTT BROWN: One of the largest driving forces behind the high cost of education is administrative costs. And, as we know, Professor Warren makes about $350,000 to teach one course.

ELIZABETH WARREN: The women of Massachusetts need a senator they can count on not some of the time, but all of the time.

GWEN IFILL: Massachusetts voters who tell pollsters they are unhappy with Washington gridlock and are concerned about who will control the Senate are paying attention.

BETH WHITEHEAD, Massachusetts: It really feels kind of fun to have Massachusetts be a target in a national way, because usually people just assume it’s just a blue state and that’s that.

ROBERT LINSKY, Massachusetts: Well, I have it in the back of my mind that the last two years what Scott Brown has done has prepared himself for the election. And so I’m a little nervous that he might be moving more toward the conservative side. I lean more toward the liberal side.

STEVE KERRIGAN, Massachusetts: I don’t think that Ms. Warren is concerned about the citizens of Massachusetts. I think she just wants to be a Democrat, you know, to recapture and reclaim the seat that was held by a Democrat in the state for a lot of years.

GWEN IFILL: With less than two dozen days left until the election and one more debate to go, Warren and Brown are stepping on the gas.

ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m going to be out there working my skinny little fanny off over the next 24 days making this happen. And here’s what I want to know. Are you ready to work to make it happen?


SCOTT BROWN: Do me a favor. Do me a favor. Don’t go to bed on November 6 and say, darn, I should have done more.

GWEN IFILL: That is the message they both approve.

RAY SUAREZ: Online, we have posted a slide show of photographs from Gwen’s trip.