Monday evening is the second of four debates between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown for a Massachusetts Senate seat that could decide control of the Senate. In the first debate, Brown came out swinging, opening with a long-discredited charge that Warren got her Harvard Law School job by falsely claiming Native American ancestry.
That debate laid to rest Brown's carefully cultivated image of "nice guy," and the momentum is now with Warren, but the race is still close.
The other image Brown has carefully pursued is that of the last moderate Republican standing. But this is also hogwash, and it is the job of Warren and the press to dispatch that claim. If I were questioning Brown, here are some of the questions I'd ask:
Mr. Brown, you claim to be an independent-minded Republican, but if you are elected you will vote to give control of the senate to Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has said that his prime job is to make sure Barack Obama fails. The Energy committee would to Sen. James Inhofe, who is a climate change denier. Other powerful committee chairs would go your fellow Republicans sworn to destroy President Obama's health reform, to deny reproductive choice, turn Medicare into a voucher, privatize Social Security, and deny people the right to marry whoever they love.
If you are such an independent and such a moderate, why are you voting for these people? Tell us which ones, if any, you would vote against?
Before Elizabeth Warren got into this race, you voted with the Republicans on 30 of 32 Senate votes since your election to use the filibuster to block votes on legislation that had at least 50 votes. This was pure obstruction. After she got in, you cast a few more dissenting votes, but still voted with the Republican caucus to obstruct a simple majority vote more than three-quarters of the time.
You were also one of the most consistently right-wing members of the Massachusetts State legislature. So who do you think you're kidding? Why should anyone believe that your recent supposed moderation is anything other than election-year posturing?
Charles Fried, who chaired the appointments committee that recruited Elizabeth Warren to Harvard Law School, was formerly solicitor general under Ronald Reagan, not exactly a left-winger. He has said that the charge that Elizabeth Warren was an affirmative action hire is "complete nonsense." Why do you keep raising this fabrication? Is your campaign so bankrupt that this is the best you can do?
You yourself in a fundraising pitch to out-of-state donors have said that electing you is "the only sure hedge to a potential second term for President Obama." Why should any Massachusetts voter who casts a ballot for President Obama also vote for you?
Who are you supporting for president, and why?
You have challenged Elizabeth Warren's work as a private attorney. But you worked for nine years as a real-estate attorney, and you worked as a title agent for Fidelity National, the parent company for LPS, one of the nastiest document forgery outfits in the business during the housing bubble.
During a period when Elizabeth Warren was defending consumers, what exactly did you do for LPS? Did you know what they were up to? Or as a title attorney, attesting to documents, were you like the piano player at the brothel?
Warren has begun pulling away, and Brown is getting increasingly desperate. We can expect more slash and burn tactics from him in Monday's debate.
Warren is in the classic dilemma of a female candidate. If she tries to keep the focus on the issues, as she did in the first debate, she runs the risk of failing to respond to Brown's charges and looking weak. If she hits back, she risks looking "strident," (a charge seldom applied to male candidates.) And if she says "Shame on you, Senator" for his more outrageous lies, she risks playing into the "school-marm" stereotype.
Even so, all she really needs to do is politely but firmly remind the Massachusetts voters just how Republican Scott Brown is, and how he would be an enabler of Republicans even more right-wing than he is. It would help if the moderator of the second debate, David Gregory of NBC, smoked out some of that as well.
Here's why Warren is the likely winner: Most Massachusetts voters have made up their minds. Barack Obama is hugely popular in the state, and will win by 300,000 votes, and more if turnout is high. The people who have been taken by the Scott Brown truck-driving, barn-jacket-wearing, regular-guy image, mostly don't like President Obama either. It's awfully hard to imagine that there are 300,000 Massachusetts voters who will cast their ballots for Obama and then turn around and vote for Scott Brown.
If Warren and the press do their jobs, there will be even fewer.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior fellow at Demos. His latest book is A Presidency in Peril.
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