Fewer barbs in third debate between Brown and Warren

After a pair of confrontational debates between Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, the two candidates toned it down slightly Wednesday for their third faceoff.

The debate focused largely on issues of taxes and the economy, with Warren asserting Brown favored big banks over middle class families, and Brown volleying back that his bipartisan record in the Senate showed he was on the side of working voters.

Absent from the debate was any mention of Warren's claims to Native American heritage, which have become a flashpoint in the Massachusetts Senate race. Brown has charged Warren with being less than transparent about why she was listed as Native American when she was a professor at Harvard Law School. Warren has countered by saying Brown is attacking her family.

That topic was brought up during the previous debates, but did not arise Wednesday during a matchup that focused mostly on economic issues facing Massachusetts.

Warren, highlighting her support for lowering taxes on middle class families, asserted Brown was avoiding his own record on the issue.

"Sen. Brown doesn't want to talk about his voting record," Warren claimed. "He just wants to launch his attacks."

"America's middle class has just been getting hammered," Warren continued. "Washington doesn't work for them. Washington works for those who can hire an army of lobbyists and an army of lawyers."

Brown hit back, saying regulations supported by Warren were harming middle class earners.

"You talk about getting hammered, Professor Warren? I suggest you put down your own hammer," Brown said, referring to regulations on small businesses.

The two candidates also sparred on the costs of higher education, with Brown asserting Warren's salary during her tenure at Harvard was inflated.

"Obviously, the cost of education is out of sight," Brown said, adding: "One of the largest driving forces behind the high cost of education is administrative costs. And as we know, Professor Warren makes about $350,000 to teach one course."

Warren rebutted by pointing to her own education at a commuter college, saying she was "proud to have made it to where I've made it in my profession. But let's be clear: I paid $50 a semester because America was investing in public colleges and universities at the time. That's what we need to do now."

During the debate, Warren was calculated in her attempts to link Brown to national Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. She also mentioned Mitt Romney at several points, keenly aware that Massachusetts' Republicans are generally more moderate than the GOP's national figures.

"Republicans have a vision: cut taxes at the top and let the chips fall where they may for everybody else. I think we can do better than that," Warren said at one point in the debate.

Two polls released this week indicated the race in Massachusetts remains in a dead heat. One poll, from Western New England University, showed Warren edging Brown 50%-45%. Another survey, from WBUR, showed Brown with the advantage, netting the support of 47% of likely Massachusetts voters compared to 43% for Warren. Margins in both polls were within the sampling error.

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