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Monday, March 19, 2012

Mass. Senate opponents Brown, Warren trade jabs in roast

BOSTON – Massachusetts’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race – between a former Obama administration appointee and the Republican who won the late Ted Kennedy’s seat – took a comedic turn Sunday as the two candidates jockeyed for laughs and votes at one of the state’s rites of political passage: South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast.

Elizabeth Warren, the former Obama administration consumer advocate, and Sen. Scott Brown, who stunned Democrats in 2010 by winning in the traditionally solid-blue state, took to the stage for the part-roast, part-Irish variety show.

Making her debut at the annual breakfast, Warren – the consumer champion and Harvard professor whom the Brown campaign has cast as an Ivy League liberal – poked fun at herself as diners polished off plates of scrambled eggs and corned beef hash. She said she’s often asked why she wants to serve in the Senate, given that it’s “filled with enormous egos” and “nothing gets done.”

“I always say, ‘Hey, I worked at Harvard. I’ll feel right at home,’ “ she said.

She also poked fun at the iconic barn jacket Brown wore as he barnstormed the state as a candidate, saying she’d heard he paid $600 for it.

“Wow,” she said. “Here’s a guy who could use a consumer advocate.”

In January 2010, Brown won the “Kennedy seat” occupied by Sen. Edward Kennedy and before him John F. Kennedy, and Democrats are anxious to take it back. Republicans, who believe they’ve got a shot at taking control of the Senate this year, need to hold the seat, making it one of the most-watched Senate races in the country.

The breakfast is a chance for candidates to show that they can deliver jokes as well as take them, and Brown used his time at the lectern to cast Warren as a lofty academic who’s out of touch with ordinary voters.

He joked that he recently counseled Warren that “people view you as an elite.” Warren, he said, replied, “I bet you a bottle of Dom Perignon that’s not true.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also came in for jabs for his efforts to court conservatives and his recent admission that his wife, Ann, drives “a couple of Cadillacs.”

Brown, who’s close to Romney but is running as a moderate in Massachusetts, joked that he almost didn’t make it to the breakfast because the truck he famously drove to victory in 2010 has “230,000 miles on it.

“But Gov. Romney was nice enough to give me one of his Caddys,” he said to laughter.

Brown was a little-known state senator when he won the seat in what many analysts interpreted as a rebuke to Obama that imperiled the president’s bid to pass his health care overhaul.

Brown’s victory marked the first time since 1972 that a Republican won a Massachusetts Senate race. Democrats have viewed Warren – who championed the creation of Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but didn’t get the job running it because of GOP opposition – as a superstar, but recent polls suggest Brown has regained an edge over his challenger.

The roast has been a South Boston tradition for more than seven decades, although organizers acknowledge it’s not as ribald as it once was.