By Chris Camire
BOSTON — The first showdown between U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren started with a roar Thursday night, as Brown once again accused Warren of lying about her Native American heritage to forward her career.
Brown leveled the attack right out of the gate, after debate moderator Jon Keller asked if character was an issue in the race.
“She claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. As you can see, she’s not,” said Brown.
Warren, who is a Harvard Law professor, firmly insisted she never used her heritage to get a job. She said Charles Fried, former solicitor general in the Reagan administration, who recruited Warren to Harvard, has said her ancestry was not mentioned in her hiring.
Brown, a Wrentham Republican, challenged his Democratic challenger to release her personnel records. He said the fact that she has refused to do so “speaks volumes.”
“There’s nothing else there,” Warren shot back. “The question has been asked and answered. I think the senator just doesn’t like the answer.”
Warren hit Brown over his recent comments that he would only vote to extend Bush-era tax cuts if they are given to workers earning over $250,000 a year.
“If there’s no tax breaks at the top, then he says no tax breaks for anyone,” said Warren.
Unlike Warren, Brown said he wants to cut taxes for everyone.
“She’s obsessed with raising taxes,” he said, chuckling.
With polls showing Brown and Warren in a tight race, analysts agree how the candidates handle themselves in the campaign’s four debates will play a crucial role in winning over undecided voters.
“This is a fifty-fifty race,” said Boston University communications professor Tobe Berkowitz. “They both literally could lose the election or win the election with a few bad performances.”
Dennis Hale, a political-science professor at Boston College, said Democrats are looking for reassurance that Warren is not too liberal to be elected. Republicans, meanwhile, want to make sure Brown does not abandon his conservatism in a ploy to attract swing voters, he said.
Warren emphasized the national implications of the campaign during a discussion about energy policy at the end of the hourlong forum, which was held inside the WBZ-TV studios in the Allston neighborhood of Boston.
If the GOP regains control of the Senate, Warren said Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has called global warming a hoax, would take control of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This isn’t just about Sen. Brown’s vote,” she said.
Brown responded by repeating that he has been rated the second-most bipartisan senator. He said Warren would join the state’s other members of Congress in voting with the Democratic Party more than 90 percent of the time.
“Can you imagine a hundred Professor Warrens down there, placing blame and raising taxes?” Brown said.
Warren’s plea to preserve Democratic control of the Senate could be a difficult sell, said Hale, largely because some voters have doubts about the way Democrats have managed the economy over the last four years.
Brown cited a study by the National Federation of Independent Business, which has backed him, saying Warren’s tax proposals would cut 700,000 jobs.
Warren blasted Brown for voting against three Democratic jobs bills that she said would have helped people like an out-of-work carpenter from Leominster named Richard, who she met on the campaign trail.
“Maybe you should tell Richard that the reason he’s not working is because we have this regulatory and tax uncertainty,” said Brown.
Warren zeroed in on Brown’s support of the Blunt Amendment, a measure that would allow employers moral exemptions from health-care coverage.
“Women need someone they can depend on,” she said. “Not some of the time. All of the time.”
Brown repeatedly chastised Warren for trying to “scare women.”
“We’re both pro-choice. We both support Roe v. Wade,” he said. “She’s wrong. I’m going to make sure Catholics aren’t pitted against their faith.”
Brown and Warren will meet next on Oct. 1 at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center, followed by an Oct. 10 debate at Springfield Symphony Hall. The fourth and final debate is on Oct. 30, just one week before the Nov. 6 election.
Correspondent Katie Doyle contributed to this report.
Follow Chris Camire on Twitter@camirereports.