The controversy over compounding pharmacies is now crossing into the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. Hard to say where this might lead, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
First up: Noah Bierman and Frank Phillips report in the Boston Globe that Brown backed an effort by the compounding-pharmacy industry to stop the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from imposing new regulations. Brown also received $10,000 in donations from a fundraising event organized by the owner of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, ground zero in the meningitis outbreak.
That sounds pretty bad. But Brown’s explanation — that he and the industry wanted a rule requiring drugs to be delivered directly to doctors rather than patients — seems reasonable.
“As you know, they sometimes fall into the wrong hands,” Brown told the Globe. “I was advocating getting it to the doctors, which I don’t think loosens regulations.”
Again, it’s hard to know how that might be relevant to the Brown-Warren race. But the Herald story describes an industry flat-out opposed to any federal involvement.
“They have a huge amount of lobbyists. They give money to politicians. We didn’t have that,” Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, told the Herald. “Sen. Ted Kennedy had a lot of influence, but obviously the bill didn’t get enough support.”
If nothing else, the Herald story casts the industry’s more recent efforts, supported by Brown, in a less benign light. And given that Brown holds Kennedy’s old seat, it could make for an irresistible compare-and-contrast.
I doubt we’ve heard the last of this.
Photo (cc) by Brian Finifter and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Right after Wednesday night’s third U.S. Senate debate between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, UMass Boston political-science professor Maurice Cunningham and I kicked it around in a video for CommonWealth Magazine. Please have a look.
The second Senate debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren ended a little while ago. And though I thought they both had their moments, with Brown a bit better than he was in the first debate, the entire affair was overwhelmed by the ego-driven, substance-free performance of moderator David Gregory.
He opened with the Native American thing because, you know, we haven’t heard it before. Near the end, he asked if the candidates thought the Red Sox should bring back Bobby Valentine. He preened about Simpson-Bowles like the Beltway insider that he is (Paul Krugman explains). And he turned what should have been a substantive discussion about real issues into a fiasco.
With today’s Boston Globe poll reporting that Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren leads Sen. Scott Brown by five points, get ready for Brown’s defenders to dredge up an infamous Globe poll from two years ago — the one that showed Attorney General Martha Coakley leading Brown, a Republican, by 15 points.
Globe-bashers like Howie Carr love to point to that earlier poll as a sign of the paper’s liberal bias — and I’ll predict right now that that will be the subject of Carr’s next column in the Boston Herald.
So what went wrong in 2010? My theory: Nothing. The story about that earlier poll is protected behind a paywall (I’m a subscriber, so I’ve reread the whole thing). But as you can see from this excerpt, the poll was conducted between Jan. 2 and 6, and the election to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy created by Ted Kennedy’s death was held on Jan. 19.
Thus it’s likely that the poll was accurate when it was conducted. People were just getting back to their normal routines coming out of the holidays. The race broke very late for Brown. By the time the story was published, on Jan. 10, the race was already trending away from Coakley, and within days, other polls were reflecting that.
What does that mean for Brown now?
First, the margin of error in the new poll, which shows Warren with a 43 percent to 38 percent lead, is 4.4 percent. In other words, if the election were held tomorrow, Brown could beat Warren by several points without calling the validity of the poll into question. The race is still essentially tied.
Second, this is not a low-turnout special election, and as the Globe story notes, Brown faces some harsh realities. By wide margins, people like Brown and like the job he’s doing — but they are increasingly leaning toward Warren because of the enormous enthusiasm among Massachusetts voters for President Obama. I suspect you would not be able to get Brown to utter the words “Mitt Romney” these days even if he were being waterboarded.
Third and most important: It’s still early. No, it’s not as early as it was during the pre-Labor Day period, when you could argue that most people weren’t paying attention. But it’s early enough for things to change dramatically if Warren stumbles badly. That’s why I think Brown is making a mistake by putting a torch to his nice-guy image with his continued attacks on Warren’s claim that she’s part-Native American.
David Bernstein of The Phoenix offers some further analysis of the Globe poll. And Nate “The Great” Silver of the New York Times takes a deep look at conservative claims of liberal bias in polling — and buries the assertion in an avalanche of well-marshaled data.
Illustration (cc) by DonkeyHotey and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Coming out of Thursday night’s WBZ-TV (Channel 4) debate between Republican senator Scott Brown and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, I thought the issue that could have the most resonance was Brown’s accusation that Warren profited from a legal case that harmed victims of asbestos exposure. Warren didn’t handle the question well, and the matter was left hanging.
Boston Globe reporter Noah Bierman wrote about the case in May. It is convoluted, to say the least. In essence, though, Warren was paid $212,000 by Travelers Insurance to argue that the insurer should be immune from future asbestos lawsuits in return for setting up a $500 million trust fund to compensate victims. The liability belonged to Travelers because Johns-Manville, the company that actually manufactured the asbestos, had gone bankrupt.
Later, after Warren no longer had anything to do with the case, another court ruled that Travelers did not have to pay out the $500 million. So the victims got nothing. Warren told the Globe:
My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible, terrible disaster. It’s heart-wrenching that there are new victims every year…. I think they should be compensated. That’s it for me. That’s what this is all about.
She added that the principle she was fighting for — a provision in bankruptcy law that would allow the establishment of trust funds for victims in return for no further legal liability — was “a critical tool for making sure that people who’ve been hurt have a fair shot at compensation.”
Brown is scheduled to discuss the asbestos case with reporters later this morning. Warren needs a better answer.
Overall, I thought Warren came across well — focused, substantive and calm, if a bit repetitive. Brown was snide and personal. Moderator Jon Keller began by inviting Brown to comment on Warren’s character, and Brown chose to go all-in on Warren’s claim that she’s part Native American. Senator, there are people who will do that for you — and have been doing that for you.
The opening debate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown … at times felt like the classroom dynamic between an earnest, soft-spoken high school English teacher and the defiant jock who plants himself in the back row and makes sour faces until the bell rings. Although the teacher never quite subdued her student, neither did he manage to get the better of her.
And how good a moderator is my friend Keller? Other than keeping the conversation moving, you barely knew he was there. In other words, a first-rate job.
The first debate is often the most important in terms of drawing the biggest audience and establishing a story line. So I’m glad that this one will be moderated by political analyst Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4). Keller, a fair-minded centrist who doesn’t mind delivering an occasional zing, is good at keeping things moving while not cutting people off. Among the things I won’t miss: a panel of journalists and a timer.
Recent polls have been all over the place, showing Warren unexpectedly taking the lead or Brown maintaining his months-long advantage. All are within the margin for error, so the race is essentially tied. That could change starting tonight.
If you’re live-tweeting (as I’ll be) or just following along on Twitter, search for #wbzdebate. The action begins at 7 p.m.
Photo (cc) by John Atherton via Wikimedia Commons and published here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
• Last year I gave a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award to Max Kennedy for refusing to release Robert Kennedy’s papers. Bryan Bender, who did the original reporting on this story, is back, and finds that nothing has changed. What are the Kennedys trying to hide?
• The Springfield Republican has had to muzzle its editorial page as the paper’s owner ponders the possibility of selling the property to build a casino, according to Mark Arsenault. It probably won’t matter much — the Republican was pro-casino even before the possibility of cashing in came along. Still, this is an interesting conflict of interest to say the least.
• Sally Jacobs writes a long feature on U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s troubled childhood — and finds that his aunt bitterly disputes his account of how she treated him. I hope Brown today is reflecting on the propriety of questioning people’s recollections of their backgrounds. Life is complicated.
What we were talking about, in case U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s diversionary tactics led you astray, was a televised debate, held before a neutral audience, to be moderated by Tom Brokaw. Everything else is baloney.
As you no doubt already know, Brown made two demands that had to be met before he would agree to a debate with his Democratic rival, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren.
The second was that the debate be carried only by local media outlets and not by “out-of-state cable networks with a reputation for political advocacy” — clear reference to the liberal outlet MSNBC, which had been mentioned as a possibility.
Both demands were ridiculous because they were irrelevant. But when Vicki Kennedy rejected the first of those demands, that was enough for Brown to say no.
(At this point I suppose I should include a non-disclosure: I’m not related to those Kennedys.)
Brown might have been able to make a reasonable case for asking Vicki Kennedy not to endorse until after the debate. But demanding that she refrain for “the duration” was just silly. If the media consortium that includes the Boston Globe schedules a debate, will Brown insist that the Globe not endorse? And what will Brown say if the Boston Herald, as is its wont, puts together its own debate? Surely he won’t ask the paper to withhold its all-but-certain Brown endorsement.
As for MSNBC, the debate organizers could prevent the channel from carrying it live. Afterwards, though, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and company would be free to show clips and comment on them whether they had carried the full debate or not. The fair-use provision of the copyright law guarantees that — not to mention the First Amendment.
And why did I say the debate would be held before a neutral audience? Because you can be sure the Brown and Warren campaigns would insist on equal numbers of partisans in the audience. So the Kennedy Institute’s sponsorship isn’t an issue, either.
I know some observers have questioned Brokaw’s alleged liberal bias. But since that hasn’t been raised by the Brown campaign, we have to assume he had no problem with Brokaw as moderator. When Brokaw moderated a debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, he seemed mainly interested in making sure neither candidate exceeded his allotted time. Liberal or not, Brokaw has earned his status as a fair-minded journalist who can be trusted not to throw the debate to either candidate.
It’s also hard to figure why Brown suddenly has a problem with Vicki Kennedy or the Kennedy Institute, given that he took part in a debate with Martha Coakley two years ago that was co-sponsored by the institute without setting any preconditions. As Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis points out, it was only a year ago that Brown couldn’t say enough good things about the late Ted Kennedy’s widow.
Globe columnist Scot Lehigh thinks Brown’s demands were “reasonable,” and he gives the senator credit for sticking to them. Yet Lehigh doesn’t tell us what Brown could possibly gain by failing to take part.
As my Northeastern colleague Alan Schroeder, an expert on political debates, puts it, “They’re making such an effort to portray Brown as someone with bipartisan credentials who can work with Democrats, and yet here’s this relatively mild example of cooperating with a Democrat, and they’re balking at it.”
Who knows what Brown and his advisers are thinking? Their political astuteness is generally beyond question. Maybe this will prove to be a smart move. Right now, though, it looks like a rare misstep, especially curious given that Brown initially made the Warren campaign look flat-footed with his rapid acceptance of several debate invitations.
My own bias is in favor of as many debates as possible, regardless of the venue. For instance, I don’t understand why Warren won’t say yes to WBZ Radio (AM 1030) talk-show host Dan Rea, who is conservative but is as fair as they come.
The candidates really don’t have anything better to do. How would we prefer they spend their time? Making television ads? Attending fundraisers? Of course not. They should spend as much time as possible side by side, talking about the issues. It’s not always the most edifying experience, but it’s better than any conceivable alternatives.
Photo (cc) by Michael Kwan and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.