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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Massachusetts Senate Candidates to Meet in First Debate


BOSTON - Senator Scott P. Brown and Elizabeth Warren face off against each other Thursday night in the first of four televised debates in this marquee Senate race.

The one-hour debate starts at 7 p.m. at the studios of WBZ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Boston. It will be streamed live on its Web site and is expected to be broadcast on C-Span. The moderator is Jon Keller, a political analyst with WBZ, and the format is fairly open, with the candidates able to question each other.

Analysts expect sparks to fly as Mr. Brown and Ms. Warren finally confront each other in person after months of lobbing barbs at each other long distance through their campaign appearances and television ads.

Ratche ting up the anticipated drama was the possibility that Mr. Brown might miss the debate because he said he had to stay in Washington to vote. But after Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, canceled a floor vote, Mr. Brown was making his way to Boston Thursday.

Both candidates have been sharpening their messages in recent weeks and they are likely to use this first debate to showcase the main themes that they want voters to remember.

Mr. Brown, a Republican running in a Democratic state, will emphasize his independence from his party, which has been his strategy from the beginning of the race.

He is likely to pivot from that into warning that Ms. Warren, a Harvard Law professor - whom he calls “Professor Warren” to suggest that she lives in an ivory tower - is antibusiness and will raise taxes so much that businesses will have to cut thousands of jobs. His new tag line in his ads is that he is “beholden t o no one,” and listeners will probably hear that again on Thursday.

Ms. Warren will almost surely repeat the refrain from her speech to the Democratic National Convention earlier this month that “the system is rigged” against the middle class and that “Scott Brown” - she almost never elevates him to “Senator” - is part of that rigged system because he votes to protect millionaires and Wall Street.

Mr. Brown had a triumphant debate moment in his first race for the Senate, in 2010, when he declared that he was running not for “the Kennedy seat” but for “the people's seat.” He has an affable presence and an instinctive feel for a crowd, but his need to play down his party affiliation has blurred where he stands on certain issues and what he wants to accomplish. His challenge Thursday night will be to show that he is more than a nice guy.

Ms. Warren has never run for office before, but as someone who went to college on a debate scholarship and has taught law, she is certainly practiced in the art of argument and persuasion. But for all of her smarts, some people find her manner off-putting, and her challenge will be to show that in addition to having a passionate command of the issues, she is someone whom voters want to see in their living rooms for the next six years.

Follow Katharine Q. Seelye on Twitter at @kseelye.