Why Scott Brown Doesn't Want a Debate

In a close race, his campaign must think he’s better off doing storm relief.

After Elizabeth Warren said she’d be available to participate in a rescheduled fourth debate on Thursday night, Scott Brown said he wasn’t sure he could make it, and made it pretty clear he wasn’t too interested in finding out. “We’ve already had three debates … There’s only a few days left and we have a very, very busy schedule,” he told reporters, who are curious whether the campaigns will find a time to reschedule Tuesday’s cancelled debate. The Globe’s Matt Viser was confused:

According to this theory, Warren is running ahead of Brown. A Suffolk University poll out Tuesday found her seven points ahead, and the RealClearPolitics poll averages put her 4.5 points ahead. Thus, Brown should be looking for opportunities to make a dramatic shift, and a debate would offer one. That is, unless he’s 100 percent sure he won’t win. That last part is a theory put forward by WGBH’s Adam Reilly:

The counter-argument to this line of thought, and an answer to the question of why Brown might not be rushing to his scheduler, comes from Viser’s colleague, The Globe’s Glen Johnson. Johnson isn’t buying this whole “we don’t even need another debate, we’ve said everything” argument. Even if that’s true and the last few debates have been super repetitive, Brown sounded enthusiastic about the debate as recently as Monday.

No, more importantly, Johnson says that while some polls find Warren ahead, The Globe’s most recent poll, at least, finds Brown ahead or statistically tied. Brown’s internal polls might show similar numbers, so he probably doesn’t think he’s losing. And perhaps, Johnson says, Brown thinks he won’t do that well in the debate, or at least, he thinks he’ll win more votes by being out with storm victims looking senatorial:

The Globe poll underscored that there might be little political upside from Brown participating in another debate.

Republican strategists suggested it may have also paralleled Brown’s own polling in what he has publicly said is a neck-and-neck contest.

Today, as the T got back to service in Boston, as highways into the city began to teem with traffic, as flights began to take off from Logan International Airport, Brown skipped a drive into the city and the debate hall in favor of a tour of areas affected by the storm.

The flaw in that plan is that he runs the risk of turning the story into a “Brown dodges debate” attack rather than a “Brown does his duty to constituents” narrative he’d prefer. It’s risky, and sort of depends on how well his campaign sells the idea that he’s got too full a schedule. And of course, all this depends on whose polls are more accurate.

One thing seems clear: no one is wondering whether Warren has taken the right strategy today. Lest anyone try to convince you Brown has been beating Warren in the debates, it seems his behavior today makes clear that even his own campaign thinks he’s been pulling off a tie at best. 

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  • Jane S.

    Bob Kerrey in Nebraska is down in the polls but all of a sudden is clamoring for a fourth debate.
    We all know what Warren and Brown will say in a debate.
    There were only three Presidential debates.

    Time for the candidates to engage in retail politics.

    • Ryan

      Time for the politicians to engage in retail politics? What exactly have they been doing for the past year, if not retail politics?

      There are a lot of issues that haven’t been touched yet in the debates and hundreds of thousands, and perhaps over a million, people watch them. Some issues have come up nationally and on the state side since the last debate — including issues related to this storm — which would have been timely and new material.

      We are not dumb. We know Scott’s had plenty of time to shake hands at Republican events across the state. He’s also had plenty of time to hold town meetings or open forums, but has ducked every single one of them since he was last elected. If Scott Brown was interested in retail politics, he’d go talk about the issues regular people care about at the debate and try to explain how his record in DC for the past two years qualifies him for another six.

      I won’t hold my breath.

  • bob

    If you look at all of the recent polling, it’s clear that the Globe poll is an outlier, and internal polls are meaningless when we have a million well-run public polls. Internal polls only mattered, to the extent they ever did, back in the old days when there were very few or no public polls.

    Look on RCP, 538, or TPM Polltracker, and you’ll see the same thing: Warren has a good-size lead, much bigger than many close Senate races. Brown hasn’t led in a poll since mid-September.

    Either Scott Brown believes his campaign’s own spin (which seems unlikely, say what you will about him and them but they are seasoned and professional enough to know where things stand) or wants to project to the media that he does (which seems MUCH more likely and at which he has been successful, see Glen Johnson article), or he just doesn’t want to have to answer for his recent rounds of nasty and false negative ads and take a hit to his nice guy image (which is a strong possibility in combination with the poll spin).

    • Ryan

      That last one seems the most likely to me. While some of their team may believe Scott’s losing (and even a few may think he’s pretty much doomed), I think Scott himself fully expects to win this one, or thinks that if he would be to lose, it’s somehow the system’s fault… or some bs like that. He’s literally one of the most self-entitled guys, with one of the most inflated egos, that I’ve ever seen in my life.

      However, the rational people in that campaign are smart enough (and smarter than him) to protect him from that last debate, since they’ve launched some seriously nasty ads in these final days, covering new territory that would absolutely blow up in his face.

      He very well could believe internal polls or the Boston Globe poll, which was most likely an outlier, and that may very well be why he decided to chicken out… ahem, I mean skip the debate. However, his campaign team probably does know better, and don’t want to subject themselves to putting him out there again.

      Maybe they even think he’ll lose, but that by keeping him out of the debate, it’ll at least be closer… which will make them look better next time they’re looking to sell a Massachusetts poll a bill of goods… ahem, I mean a high-priced political consultant contract.

  • bob

    That should say that he’s only led in one poll since mid-September.

  • MJ

    Brown doesn’t want to be called out on all of his LIES his ads are spewing all over television, print, mailers & the internet.