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.