On Monday night, Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown sparred for an hour over health care, taxes, terrorism, abortion, and the death penalty. In what was the campaign's final debate and the only one broadcast live in Massachusetts' largest media market, Coakley committed at least one serious gaffe when she said there are no terrorists left in Afghanistan because they've all gone to Yemen or Pakistan. Barack Obama would beg to disagree.
On health care, Brown continued to hammer the congressional Democrats' Medicare cuts and tax hikes—an especially bad deal, he said, for a state that already has a health care plan. In a play for Reagan Democrats, Brown emphasized that the bill is going to tax the health care plans "for good union members who have fought so hard through good-faith bargaining to get those plans." Coakley shot back, alleging that Brown would allow insurance companies to deny coverage for mammograms (Brown had supported reducing the number of mandates to reduce health care costs, though he insisted during the debate that mammograms would be covered under a basic plan).
Brown scored a few points and managed to come off as likable, in contrast to Coakley's, at times, prosecutorial manner. Her aggressive style was most clearly on display when each candidate was given a chance to ask the other a question. Coakley spent her one shot asking Brown if he accepted the endorsement of a Massachusetts pro-life group and then attacked Brown for sponsoring what she said was an amendment "that would allow hospital rooms to deny emergency room care to rape victims." (Brown had supported a conscience clause that would allow medical workers the right to choose not provide abortions or birth control.)
In his response, Brown said that he was proud of all of his endorsements and drew distinctions between himself and Coakley on federal funding of abortion, partial-birth abortion, and parental consent laws. "I want to be a jobs crusader. I don't want to be a social crusader," he said.
Interrupting Brown the fourth or fifth time, Coakley's voice grew more stern and she demanded that Brown tell her "What does that bill do?"
"I'm not in your court room, and I'm not a defendant," Brown replied with a smile as he pushed back against her question.
Brown's question for Coakley was on the culture war/war on terror. After pointing out that Coakley wants to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed constitutional rights to a civilian trial in New York, Brown asked Coakley if she'd support the death penalty for KSM. She replied that she would support the law of the land, even though she's personally opposed to the death penalty and would not vote for it.
The debate was moderated by CNN's David Gergen. Near the end of the debate, he had two questions for Brown and Coakley each. After putting Brown on the spot over Roe v. Wade and "climate change," Gergen turned to the Democrat with his hardest hitting questions of the night.
"Do you think it was right to insist on three people being at the debate?" Gergen asked Coakley. Yes, she did.
He followed up with this doozy: "As you look back on the campaign, do you have any second thoughts on how the campaign has unfolded?"
"Absolutely not," she said.