By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Live-blogging the Mass. Senate debate

I’m heading in to Boston in a bit to cover the first televised Massachusetts Senate debate, which will be moderated by political analyst Jon Keller. I’ll be posting a few observations here during the debate.

6:48 p.m. The media are set up in a second-floor conference room. There’s a flat-panel TV at one end of the room, which presumably will come on in a few minutes.

6:55 p.m. Moderator Jon Keller pops up five minutes early, then stops. The debate will be shown at 7 p.m. at and

7 p.m. The music is coming on.

7:03 p.m. Here we go. The debate is being broadcast on C-SPAN as well.

7:09 p.m. Good first question from a viewer — Massachusetts health-care reform has cost more than expected. What lessons can we learn? The Republican candidate, state Sen. Scott Brown, sort of deflects the question and says he would vote against the federal health-care-reform bill.

The Democrat, Attorney General Martha Coakley, explains why she’ll vote yes. “I think the plan will be good for Massachusetts.” The independent, Joe Kennedy, criticizes the Massachusetts system as being the most expensive in the country. “We should have addressed costs first,” Kennedy says.

Brown: “My role … is to look out for the interests of this state.” Coakley: “”They’re complementary plans. They don’t compete with each other.”

Kennedy: One of the premises of the Massachusetts plan was to control costs, and it hasn’t worked. “We’re going to end up bankrupting the country,” he says.

7:10 p.m. A weird question from a female viewer, who compares abortion coverage to Viagra coverage. Are those really analogous?

Brown claims Coakley has flip-flipped on her promise to vote against health-care reform if it restricts abortion rights. (She now says she’ll vote for the bill.) Coakley calls it “a compromise process,” but doesn’t really address abortion rights.

7:14 p.m. In response to a question on cash-for-clunkers, Kennedy says taxpayers spent $24,000 for every $8,000 that went  into buying cars — then says he has no idea if those numbers are correct. Thanks for sharing, Joe. (Note: Media Nation commenter @Harrybosch finds that Kennedy got it right.)

7:20 p.m. We seem to be on to Keller’s questions rather than those submitted by viewers. Good. In response to a question about taxes, Brown says, “I’m in favor of lowering taxes and creating jobs … and putting more money in people’s pockets.”

Coakley responds by saying most tax cuts in recent years have gone to the top 1 percent to 2 percent of earners — “between the haves and the have-mores.” Kennedy comes out in favor of the income-tax cut that was on the state ballot last year, and says Brown opposed it.

Brown: Coakley is in favor of $2.1 trillion in taxes. Coakley: Brown is talking about investments necessary to come out of an economic recession. Kennedy: “The problem here is spending.”

7:25 p.m. Keller asks Coakley what would be sufficient provocation for war. Coakley essentially responds it would have to be an attack on the U.S., Western Europe or Israel. Kennedy sort of says the same thing. Brown says America is good.

7:28 p.m. Brown goes on to note that he supports President Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, unlike Coakley, who, in turn, says, “I just don’t think we can be successful.” Kennedy adds putting our troops in “harm’s way ought to be done with the utmost thoughtfulness.” Kennedy says the original mission in Afghanistan has been “completed,” and the current mission is “undefined.”

Brown: We need to prevent the Taliban from working with Al Qaeda and to stop nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Brown adds Obama needs the “tools and resources” to carry out his mission.

Kennedy says we can defend Pakistan without having a full-scale occupation of Afghanistan.

7:30 p.m. We’re in another break. My quick impression is that we’re having an intelligent, substantive debate among three politicians with widely differing philosophies. At least in terms of being able to deliver a credible performance, Kennedy has proven he belongs with Coakley and Brown.

7:34 p.m. The candidates are talking about children, who, as we know, are the future. Snarkiness aside, it’s an important issue, and I’m sorry to report I haven’t heard anything worth passing along.

7:37 p.m. Kennedy is really causing Brown some problems, saying that Brown supported former governor Mitt Romney in approving $1 billion in tax increases. Not quite sure what Kennedy means, though when it swings back to him, he talks about penalties that people have to pay if they don’t have health insurance.

7:40 p.m. Keller asks a question from @dankennedy_nu (hey, that’s me) as to whether a senator should reflect the views of his or her constituents or exercise independent judgment. I don’t think I’m being unfair by observing that Brown responds by saying he’ll do both, and that Coakley ignores the question. Kennedy says he’ll listen to his constituents, but he doesn’t really answer the question, either.

Brown: “Martha isn’t running against Bush and Cheney, she’s running against me.”

7:44 p.m. Neither Coakley nor Brown has an iota of charisma. If the polls are to believed, Coakley doesn’t need it, and Brown does. Kennedy actually comes across as a bit more engaging. Kennedy keeps challenging Brown on whether he truly supports spending cuts — just deadly. He’s stealing Brown’s lunch right off his plate. He even challenges Brown to put his voting record online.

7:47 p.m. Oh, this is good — Keller asks what the candidates do when they’re approached by panhandlers. I like Coakley’s answer: no. She says she’d rather they take advantage of the safety net.

Kennedy: “When individuals approach me, I offer to buy them a sandwich.” And he walks with them to make sure they do it.

Brown: I’ve given money, coffee and sandwiches. Gov. Deval Patrick has cut the non-profits that Coakley refers to. They’re hurting because of higher taxes and not enough jobs.

7:49 p.m. Coakley goes after the Boston Herald for a story she says was wrong and that it retracted. I confess I don’t know what she’s referring to. If a Media Nation reader has something on that, please post it in the comments. (Ask and ye shall receive. Commenter @Rich tracks it down.)

7:52 p.m. This is very impressionistic, and maybe it’s just me. But I think Kennedy is coming across a lot better than Brown in terms of stating a clear anti-government, anti-tax, anti-spending philosophy.

7:58 p.m. Keller closes by asking what caused 9/11. I love Kennedy’s answer: The 19 hijackers caused 9/11. (Given the way this live-blog is going, I guess I should remind everyone that Kennedy and I are not related.) Brown takes a shot at Coakley for supporting putting terrorists on trial in New York. Coakley doesn’t say much.

“We should not be providing taxpayer dollars to providing attorneys to represent these people in New York,” Brown says. Has he thought through the implications of what he’s saying? He also claims the money will be spent on those trials instead of the troops, an absurd allegation. Coakley calls him on it.

Coakley: “Protecting civil rights and holding people accountable” is what the Constitution requires.

8:36 p.m. Sorry for the abrupt cutoff. As soon as the debate was over, we all ran downstairs to interview the candidates. Probably the most notable quote was Brown’s saying of Coakley, “Martha’s a very nice lady, and I have great respect for her. But she’s wrong about policy.”

When Coakley was asked about the “nice lady” remark, she deflected any hint that she found it sexist, saying, “I don’t mind. I am a nice lady…. I try to be nice to my colleagues, and I don’t take any umbrage at it.”

Most of the press departed before Kennedy could have his close-up, but Boston Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz and I stuck around. I asked Kennedy if he were concerned that he might be hurting Brown’s chances of making a run at Coakley, given that both of them say they oppose taxes and spending.

“People have to vote their conscience,” he replied. “You have to look at people’s records when there’s nothing else.” He said state spending rose at twice the rate of inflation when Romney was governor, and that Brown never challenged him on that.

“If he hasn’t done it before,” Kennedy said, “I can’t believe he’s going to do it now.”

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  1. Newshound

    Like I have written in the past, it is hard to predict the future.

    So, I’m on pins and needles watching to see if your reports indicate Brown to be your favorite.

    Either way, Happy Debate.

  2. Steve Stein

    Dan, the Hound’s comment begs a question: what role do you see yourself in here? News reporter, media critic, opinion blogger? If you are a news reporter, you wouldn’t be indicating a favorite at all (Unlike, say, reporters at the Gore-Bradley 2000 NH debate).

    Unless the Hound, dog that he is, is just being facetious.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: I am actually here on other business, as you will see sometime tomorrow (I hope). But while I’m here, I might as well live-blog it. My goal, as always, is to offer something fair but opinionated.

  3. Harrybosch

    The story of the night might just be that Joseph Kennedy is not crazy.

    At least he makes a great deal of sense to me.

  4. Harrybosch

    Quick Google finds an article from CSM supporting Kennedy’s Cash for Clunker claim (Edmunds reported that $24,000 number.)

  5. Steve Stein

    I hope they get to the spending question. If the answer is “tax cuts”, the question has to be “where”? And we have to be talking MAJOR spending cuts, because we’re $1Trillion+ in the red already. “Eliminate waste and fraud” ain’t gonna cut it.

  6. Steve Stein

    Whoa – Brown just acknowledged Joe! (re the mission in Afghanistan)

  7. Harrybosch

    Brown says America is good


  8. Harrybosch

    Don’t want any more unwed mothers?

    Stop subsidizing unwed mothers.

    You subsidize wheat, you get more wheat. You subsidize corn, you get more corn. You subsidize unwed mothers . . .

  9. Steve Stein

    Will Jon ask Brown about the difference between tax cuts when the top marginal rate is 80+% and now (top rate 38%)?

  10. Harrybosch

    The stilted laughter is not helping Mr. Brown.

  11. Harrybosch

    Coakley is that girl in school who reminded the teacher she forgot to give homework.

    Get used to that . . . for the next forty years or so.

  12. Harrybosch

    Very awkward to have them go from (left-to-right) tallest, taller, short.

    They look like the three little bears.

  13. Peter Porcupine

    DK – thank you. It is a crime that most of Massachusetts will never see this debate, due to the sacrosanct nature of Wheel of Fortune.

  14. Steve Stein

    PP – it’s being broadcast Sunday morning at 8AM and next Monday at 7PM on channel 38. Wheel and Jeopardy are safe.

  15. Harrybosch

    Quick Google for “Coakley Herald Retraction” does nothing obvious.

    Worth following up.

  16. Harrybosch

    Love how Coakley actually turned to Kennedy when referring to the Constitution.

    Telling, that is.

  17. Harrybosch

    Wow. It’s over?

    Anyway, this was fun. Great job, Dan.

  18. AndreaWill

    Well, I think it is more likely that Coakley was turning to the other person in the debate who also knew the Constitution, unlike Mr. Brown.

  19. AndreaWill

    And yes, Dan. Speaking as a Democrat, Joe Kennedy seems to be the more rational, well spoken and intelligent of the two evils.

  20. Rich

    FYI, here’s the AG’s response to the Herald about her office’s budget:

  21. Local Editor

    And I just got my first post-debate press release from Scott Brown.

    Here’s their take: “During our debate, Martha Coakley referred to higher taxes as “investments.” I call them what they are — job killers that will make it harder for us to create jobs and bring prosperity back to our country.”

    Spin spin spin!

  22. mike_b1

    Does Scott Brown know what is in the Constitution? Because every time he opens his mouth, he seems darn intent on rewriting it.

  23. Steve Stein

    Joe Kennedy was not shallow and not insane.

    My pet theory here is that this might play as the Massachusetts version of NY-23: Kennedy will steal support from Brown, sinking any chance he might have had of an upset. (“The Massachusetts mini-Scozzafava”)

    Or not.

  24. Newshound

    Steve Stein – I was being somewhat facetious.

    While I can’t predict the future, I could well predict that our loyal friend Dan would provide us with an honest and competent report. I was facetious in that I didn’t think Brown would prevail, although a decent person.

    As Dan was feeding the debaters’ answers to questions it was becoming apparent that candidate Kennedy seemed to be a much deeper thinker. I will predict his chances are pretty darn poor at winning and I will theorize the citizenry will be the real losers, based on what was revealed tonight.

    I think it was very constructive to have Candidate Kennedy in the debate – not that he will likely win, nor for what we learned from him, but what we have learned by him.

    And to the other Kennedy at the debate: Thanks, Dan!

  25. O-FISH-L

    I will be voting for young Joe Kennedy this time around. It’s important to keep some continuity in the seat, so who better than one of the Kennedy clan? Plus the resemblance to Jack and Bobby is striking.

    The Kennedy’s were always there for working people and I know many of my fellow retirees are joining me in supporting Joe. He was solid in the debate tonight too, so I have no reservations now. Plus, all of the fuel oil he gives to the poor this time of year. Extremely generous. He has my vote.

  26. Bill Peregoy

    I was impressed with Kennedy’s performance in the debate. Although his views didn’t mesh with mine enough to get my vote, he certainly proved himself a serious candidate who deserved real coverage by the press.

    I was anxious to red how this debate would be covered in today’s news and was amazed that the only reference in today’s Globe was this, “A third candidate, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, opposes a military buildup in Afghanistan.”

    I’m amazed that they could possibly consider this balanced coverage of this debate. Kennedy made a significant impact and it was totally ignored and in effect mocked by the Globe with this dismissive coverage.

  27. It seems like Joe Kennedy won the debate, based on your account Dan. I’ll have to watch it for myself to find out. 🙂

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: It depends on what you mean by “won.” If we’re playing the expectations game, then yes, Kennedy was the clear winner. And if having the biggest impact on the race means he won, then he might come out ahead there, too — he was a heat-seeking missile aimed directly at Brown.

      But in terms of his views on the issues, Kennedy is going to have pretty limited appeal.

  28. Harrybosch

    In this morning’s edition, the Herald laughably claims Brown “[introduced] himself to voters with a slick and polished style.”

    I wonder if they wrote the skeleton of the story in advance (including that line) and just filled in the blanks later.

    At any rate, they did not watch the same debate I did.

  29. I missed the debate, is the video online anywhere?

  30. Al

    I didn’t see it, either, but wasn’t “slick” a pejorative used by conservatives against Bill Clinton (remember Slick Willie)? I guess its a compliment, now.

  31. Bill Peregoy

    It airs on WBZ TV on Sunday morning. It looks like they aren’t posting it on until after that airing.

    • Dan Kennedy

      And despite what I wrote earlier, it appears that the debate will be shown on C-SPAN at a later time — it was not live.

  32. Dan:

    Thanks for the (excuse the shades of Fox) fair and balanced coverage. This Libertarian certainly appreciates it. And I’m not in the least surprised by the lack of same from The Globe.

  33. ben

    Glad to see that Joe Kennedy provided an education in what true libertarian thinking to those who were unaware. It is fair to make the point, however, that an idealogical purist should have the easiest time in a debate because there are no shades of gray in that world. Although I don’t think much of Scott Brown, like most of us he operates in a reality that isn’t not suited for purists.

  34. Newshound

    These are not the Jack Kennedy – Cabot Lodge days. Joe Kennedy appears to be a good person and a worthy candidate, so to speak, but the Republican and Democrat party candidates should have been people to tremendously overwhelm a third party candidate. Not that third party or Independent, Libertarian or unenrolled candidates are not worthy – that is how political parties start.

    It just seems ironic that with this day known to be coming for a while that there is not an extraordinary person willing to serve.

    Candidate Coakley, while the nominee of the dominant party, is no Jack Kennedy, and is the inverse of Barney Frank who is not self-serving, very bright, loyal, honest, and dedicated with a passion to hard work in the interest of our society.

    Mr. Brown, too, kind of shallow when we think back to people like Lodge and Leverett Saltonstall.

    It isn’t that Joe Kennedy is not well prepared to be a U. S. Senator from Massachusetts, it is that his opponents are not either, but this is what we are left with. Again, hard to predict the future but I think most agree it is safe to bet on this one.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Newshound: Coakley is almost certainly going to win. You’re right that she’s no Jack Kennedy. Let’s think for a moment, though about how Ted Kennedy was regarded when he ran his first campaign. I think there’s a good argument to be made that it took Ted at least 10 years, if not longer, to get where Coakley will be on day one in terms of experience, ability and judgment.

  35. Harrybosch

    Currently on Boston.Com, Brian Mooney’s 1,068-word analysis of the candidates stances on foreign policy as revealed in last night’s debate devotes one sentence — exactly thirteen words — to Joseph Kennedy:

    “A third candidate, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, opposes a military buildup in Afghanistan.”

    I think he earned more than that.

  36. Newshound

    Yes, Dan – Coakley is the safer bet if betting on the election, as long as the odds are not a million to one.

    I, too, had thought about the prospects of Coakley developing into a Kennedy, Lodge, Saltonstall, Churchill if given the opportunity.

    We know, too, that Churchill’s popularity wavered and that Roosevelt and Lincoln – along with many others were far from unanimous approval.

    But in observing personality and characteristics without going into a lot of detail, Coakley just doesn’t seem to be in that league nor offer that depth.

    There’s a lot through the years not to admire about Ted Kennedy, and there’s a lot to like about him too.

    Just to compare a little more, Coakley, too, is no Joe Moakley, no Tip O’Neill, and no Calvin Coolidge.

    To me, every name on this list with the exception of one is someone who was truly devoted to serving the public first and foremost – their passion, without compromising integrity. The recent way the Boston Globe – Mayor Menino email situation alone, was handled, is the tip of the iceberg.

    And, I just can’t imagine her ever holding a candle to Barney Frank – – – perhaps imperfect but someone who puts our country far ahead of wasting time with his hair or appearance – – – our modern day hero integrity and substance first, in spite of possible oversights or differences in important directions this country should take.

  37. Steve Stein

    There’s one aspect to this job that no one’s touched on yet that Kennedy was superb at – constituent service. Whether it’s guiding a constituent though a maze of red tape, or even just acknowledging communications, I want a person in there who is at least responsive, if not pro-active, when an “ordinary citizen” needs help.

    This requires personal passion and commitment, and also the ability to assemble and manage a top-notch staff. I’m waiting for any of the candidates to say word one about this important dimension to the office of Senator.

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