Massachusetts State House (Public Domain)
Tonight was the final of five debates between the candidates for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, which took place at UMass-Boston. All three candidates took part (Brown, Coakley and Kennedy), and it was moderated by David Gergen.
As is usually the case in final debates, things did get contentious at times. State Sen. Brown, who has gained momentum in recent weeks, made the most of his opportunity to engage Attorney General Coakley at almost every turn. He made it a point to make sure that any distinctions between the two were highlighted.
Coakley employed the same basic strategy, trying to link Brown with Former President George W. Bush and Former Vice President Dick Cheney on several occasions, and trying to draw inconsistencies between Brown's record and what he is campaigning on.
Joe Kennedy stayed away from the fray for the most part, focusing like a laser beam on his small-government message. He stated several times that he was the only candidate who was discussing cutting spending and entitlements, and also mentioned some other classic Libertarian ideas surrounding the Federal Reserve and military intervention around the world.
Gergen led an interesting debate format. It was relatively open, and he allowed plenty of time for discussion. He started by asking all the candidates several policy questions covering the health insurance reform bill, the Federal deficit, job creation, and how the candidates would propose to win the war on Al-Qaeda.
He then allowed each candidate to ask the other two a question. Coakley chose to ask Brown a specific question about an amendment to a bill he supported (which wasn't in the final bill) that would allow private hospitals to deny reproductive care if it was against their beliefs. Brown appeared to duck the question as Coakley pressed.
Kennedy chose to direct his question to Coakley, asking how could one pay for the health insurance reform bill (est. $1.2 trillion) when the total income of all taxes is $1.08 trillion, without raising taxes by 11%. Kennedy chose not to press as Coakley appeared to duck the question.
Brown chose to ask Coakley about captured terrorists. After taking the opportunity to oppose the notion that terrorists be tried in criminal courts instead of military tribunals, Brown asked if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were found guilty, and given the death penalty, would she support it? Coakley answered this directly, stating that although she is personally against the death penalty, she would support the law of the land.
Gergen then asked a question to each candidate. His first question was to Coakley, asking if she thought it was the right decision to insist that all three candidates be allowed in debates. Coakley responded by saying that anyone on the ballot deserves a voice in the public forum, and mentioned that Kennedy had made both she and Brown better candidates.
Kennedy was asked his preference between the two other candidates. He mentioned that Brown was the only one who mentioned tax cuts, but that was tempered with Brown coming out against the income tax referendum from 2008.
Each candidate then concluded with some personal background on themselves, and a closing statement re-iterating their positions.
The Special Election will be held next Tuesday, January 19th.