By Chris Camire
LOWELL — Elizabeth Warren said she wanted to talk about U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s voting record. Halfway through Monday night’s debate, she got her chance.
Brown opposed a Democratic-sponsored jobs bill that would have prevented the layoffs of firefighters, police officers and teachers throughout Massachusetts, she said. He also voted against extending unemployment insurance 16 times.
“She’s misstating the facts,” he insisted. “These were rejections by Democrats and Republicans, professor. If you’re going to comment on my record, I would at least have you refer to it …”
Warren tried to interrupt.
Brown cut her off.
“Excuse me. I’m not a student in your classroom,” he said. “Please let me respond, OK? Thank you.”
The crowd of 5,700 at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center erupted in a chorus of hisses and cheers. After the debate, Warren told reporters she was “a little surprised” by Brown’s comment.
The exchange was just one of several contentious moments during the second debate of the state’s high-profile U.S. Senate race.
The stakes were high, and both candidates seemed to know it, frequently interrupting each other and pleading with debate moderator David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet The Press, for more time to respond to their opponent’s attacks.
Themes that have dominated the race to this point received heavy play — Warren’s Native American heritage, Brown’s relationship with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Those watching the debate also learned some new things.
During a lightning round, Gregory asked Brown to name his “model Supreme Court justice.” Brown hesitated, admitting the question was difficult to answer, before saying Antonin Scalia is “a very good judge.”
Warren flashed a big smile as the crowd buzzed in reaction to Brown praising the court’s conservative anchor. Brown then added Justices Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor to his list.
“That’s the beauty of being independent,” Brown said. “I don’t have to pick one.”
After the debate, Brown told reporters he respects the justices for their legal minds, not their politics. Warren said she was “amazed” by his answer.
“When he says Justice Scalia is his ideal Supreme Court justice, then I think he’s giving us an idea of the kind of Supreme Court that Senator Brown would like to see,” she said after the debate.
The U.S. Senate confirms Supreme Court justices.
Warren said her ideal judge is Elena Kagan. Warren, a Harvard Law professor, worked with Kagan when she was the dean of Harvard Law School.
Earlier in the debate, Gregory asked Warren if she could envision herself working with any Senate Republicans. Warren mentioned Indiana’s Richard Lugar, who was defeated in this year’s Republican primary.
“Well, he’s not going to be there,” said Brown, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Warren recovered by saying she could work with virtually every Republican on revising Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S.-owned mortgage-finance companies. But Brown pounded on her inability to name a single Republican senator who will be serving in 2013.
“She couldn’t reference one person except someone who’s retiring,” he said.
The one-hour debate brought a great deal of excitement to the university and the city.
About 50 students wearing UMass Lowell T-shirts sat on bleachers on both ends of the stage. Two UMass Lowell students, Mary-Kate Hazel of Chelmsford and Vladimir Saldana of Lowell, got a chance to ask the questions candidates on job creation and immigration, respectively.
Throughout the debate, Warren tried to paint Brown as a rubber-stamp for the right-wing agenda of national Republicans. Brown touted his independent streak, repeatedly claiming to be the Senate’s second-most bipartisan member.
At one point, Warren was asked why Massachusetts has never elected a female U.S. senator or governor. After saying she did not know why, Gregory asked Warren if it troubles her.
“Well, right now, I’m trying to do something about that,” she said, prompting wild applause from her supporters.
Brown was asked if Massachusetts U.S. Sen. John Kerry would make a good secretary of state in a second term for President Barack Obama. Yes, Brown said, adding that he has already told Kerry the same on multiple occasions.
“I think he has a very good knowledge of world affairs and is a real leader on that issue,” Brown said.
The candidates were asked to name something they admire about each other.
The audience laughed when Warren said Brown has a lovely family. Brown smiled and waved to his wife and daughters. Warren also praised Brown for voting to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military.
Brown said he admires Warren’s accomplished teaching career, but added: “As a matter of fact, she’s such a good professor … I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she can continue to be in that position.”
The debate ended on a light note. Should Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine be fired after this year’s disappointing season?
Warren said she had high hopes for Valentine at the beginning of the year and said he deserves one more year. Brown wouldn’t answer, saying he’d leave the decision to Red Sox management.
Follow Chris Camire at twitter.com/camirereports.