BOSTON (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is refusing to participate in a Senate debate proposed by the widow of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy after its sponsors said it was “inappropriate” for him to demand that she refrain from endorsing a candidate in the race.
Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, said the response by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and the University of Massachusetts-Boston shows the institute can’t hold a nonpartisan debate. Victoria Kennedy, president of the institute’s board, had invited Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren to participate.
“We respect Vicki Kennedy’s decision but we regret that we cannot accept a debate invitation from someone who plans to endorse Scott Brown’s opponent,” Barnett said, also describing the event as a “partisan Kennedy debate.”
“The Kennedy Institute cannot hold itself out as a nonpartisan debate sponsor while the president of its board of trustees gets involved in the race on behalf of one of the candidates.”
Warren had previously agreed to the Sept. 27 debate.
In a letter to Brown and Warren earlier Monday, representatives of the institute and school pointed out that newspapers and other media outlets routinely sponsor political debates, and later endorse candidates.
Unlike those debates, they said, Victoria Kennedy will not be asking questions. They also described the institute as a “non-partisan educational organization.”
“This non-endorsement pledge is unprecedented and is not being required of any other persons or entities,” Lisa McBirney, the chief operating officer of the Kennedy institute and Christopher Hogan, chief of staff of the office of the chancellor of UMass-Boston wrote in the letter.
“To us, such a pledge seems inappropriate when a non-media sponsor issues a debate invitation,” the two added, noting that they also had co-sponsored a debate between Brown and Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election to fill the vacancy left by the senator’s death.
Brown had also demanded that only Massachusetts news outlets participate in the event, meaning that MSNBC could not serve as a sponsor, although Tom Brokaw could remain as moderator.
In their letter, McBirney and Hogan said they were flexible on the issue of media coverage, although they would like to make the debate available to all Massachusetts stations and networks and any cable outlets that would like to air it as well. They indicated that the campaigns could negotiate the specific terms of the debate after accepting the invitation “in principle.”
Brown, who won the special election, famously campaigned by saying, “It’s not the Kennedy seat. And it’s not the Democrats’ seat. It’s the people’s seat.”
But Brown has also cited Kennedy’s legacy and said he keeps a picture of Kennedy on his office mantel. He invoked Kennedy during a recent debate over an amendment that would have allowed employers or health insurers to deny coverage for services they say violate their moral or religious beliefs, including birth control.
At the groundbreaking of the Kennedy Institute in April 2011, Brown also praised Victoria Kennedy for pushing to build what he described as an “amazing facility” and “institute of learning.”
“I was deeply moved by her passion and enthusiasm to do something very special for her husband and for the family and for our commonwealth and for our country,” Brown said at the time.
Warren has accepted invitations to four televised debates: one sponsored by a Springfield media consortium, a second by Boston’s WBZ-TV, a third by a consortium of Boston media outlets including The Boston Globe and local television and radio stations, and the Kennedy Institute debate.
Brown previously accepted invitations to the debates hosted by the Springfield media consortium and WBZ-TV.
Brown has also accepted two debates on Boston talk-radio shows on WBZ-AM and WTKK-FM. Warren hasn’t agreed to those.
The Massachusetts Senate contest is one of the most closely watched in the nation.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.