The quickest way to understand the dynamic of the Massachusetts Senate race was to tune into Wednesday night's debate and listen for the proper nouns.
Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, with the exception of a couple ultra-local references—Westover Air Reserve Base's new C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft—kept it national. She mentioned Mitt Romney and the Republican party four times apiece, Grover Norquist three times, President Obama twice, and New Gingrich once. Sen. Scott Brown (R), desperate to convince Massachusetts' largely moderate electorate he's super-independent, never once mentioned either of the two major parties, nor did he identify either of the major presidential candidates by name. Instead, he did everything but pull out a copy of the Springfield Yellow Pages and start reading from it. He mentioned Milano's (a local restaurant), Friendly's (a local chain), the Big E (the local state fair), Mass. Mutual (the local insurance giant), former Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, and Celtics legend Bob Cousy—all two times apiece. He talked up Boston College, Tufts University, Wakefield High School, and Bristol Community College.
Brown, trailing in 9 of the 11 most recent polls, is trying to disassociate himself from the Republican party. But it's looking like a losing battle. Here's what I thought was the most illuminating moment of the debate. It was Warren taking Brown to task on equal pay and reproductive rights—and then, after Brown responds, hammering him again almost verbatim a few minutes later:
This is a side of Warren—righteous anger—we really hadn't seen in either of the first two debates. And it's especially damaging because it frames Brown as squarely in the embrace of the national GOP. As Warren put it, "These issues were decided until the Republicans brought them back."