For one hour on Thursday night, Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Scott Brown square off on the same stage in their first televised debate – each with a formidable task to accomplish with Massachusetts voters.
Senator Brown, who is seeking to defend his seat in a heavily Democratic state, needs to be rebut his rival's criticism that on big issues he has sided with conservatives and big corporations, rather than with his constituents.
Ms. Warren, a law professor known for her sharp-tongued populist fusillades, needs to score points with her criticisms without coming off as unappealingly shrill.
Get ready for a lively exchange. Both candidates are considered to have star power, Brown for his strong likeability ratings and Warren for her role as a voice against power brokers including Wall Street bankers. This Senate race is a close one, according to recent polls, and will help determine whether Republicans can wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in November.
Recent statements by the two candidates hint at core messages they'll be trying to convey.
Warren challenges Brown directly in an ad posted on YouTube Sept. 18, but the ad uses gentle background music, and a soft spoken cadence by the candidate to convey that she isn't the wild-eyed liberal ranter that her critics portray.
With wooden kitchen cabinets and a tea kettle visible in the background, Warren says of Brown: "Too often on things that really matter he's not with you." He voted against three Obama jobs bills, she says, and against millionaires "paying the same tax rate as working families."
"I'd be in there fighting for you, not some of the time – all of the time," Warren concludes.
The Warren campaign has also deployed her husband and her dog to humanize a candidate many voters know best for her role as fiery chair of a watchdog panel that kept tabs on government bailouts of banks during the recession.
Brown, meanwhile, has issued a video appeal to voters not to believe what he calls negative attacks by Warren.
"I'm nobody's senator but yours," he says.
Brown has sought to distance himself somewhat from fellow Republicans – and he has drawn attention to endorsements he has received from some Democratic politicians in the state. The Thursday debate may give him a chance to distinguish his own views from those aired recently in a videotape of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney – saying that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent" on government, don't pay taxes, and won't find a low-tax message appealing.
This week, Brown has drawn attention to weak job creation numbers in Massachusetts as a sign that Republican policies are needed.
"The increase in the Massachusetts unemployment rate is the latest indicator our state cannot afford Professor Warren’s antigrowth policies," he said in a statement, calling her a supporter of tax hikes and an antibusiness environment.
The one-hour debate will air at 7 p.m. on Boston station WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and on its affiliated radio station, AM 1030. According to some news reports, C-SPAN will also carry the debate, although the network's online schedule didn't confirm that at time of publication.