(CNN) – The candidates were quick to attack Thursday night in their first debate as they vie for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts, delivering pointed barbs on their opponent’s character and record.
Republican Scott Brown pounced on the first question in the hour-long event moderated by WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller – a question about a candidate's character. Brown seized the opportunity to tear into Democrat Elizabeth Warren for a comment that has been a drag on her campaign since last spring for claiming Native American heritage–a claim Brown says could have helped her gain employment as a professor at Harvard Law School.
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"Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of color and as you can see, she's not," said Brown, who repeated his call for his opponent to release records showing whether she had claimed Native American heritage on job applications. "When you are a U.S. Senator, you have to pass a test and that's one of character and honesty and truthfulness. I believe and others believe she's failed that test."
Brown added that refusing to release the records in question "speaks volumes" about her character.
Warren defended her claim saying that she had learned of her heritage from stories from her family, adding that "my mother was part Delaware and part Cherokee" and denied that she ever used her heritage to gain access to college or employment.
Warren had previously said that she listed herself as having Native American roots while teaching at Harvard University Law School to meet other people with similar backgrounds.
Warren in turn attacked Brown for voting against job-creating legislation.
Sparring over a number of topics ranging from tax legislation to oil subsidies to abortion rights, Brown repeatedly harped on Warren for misrepresenting his views.
Thursday’s event was the first of what are sure to be four lively debates that will help determine the outcome of the hotly contested U.S. Senate seat. And while Democrats currently hold control of the Senate, the outcome of the Massachusetts race is a key factor in determining which party holds sway come January.
Prior to her candidacy, Warren was a top financial adviser to President Barack Obama and the force behind a high-profile agency borne from the 2010 Wall Street reform legislation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She paints herself as the candidate best equipped to fight for the middle class.
Brown bested Attorney General Martha Coakley in a special election in 2010 to grab the seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Brown has continually sought to maintain a moderate and independent spirit from the Republican Party as a candidate in the historically blue state of Massachusetts. Brown previously called for a change in language on abortion rights in the Republican Party's official plank and, more recently, denounced controversial comments about "47% of Americans" made by Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a secretly recorded video of the presidential candidate speaking to high-dollar donors posted online Monday and Tuesday.
Though the candidates have been in a dead heat in the polls for the better part of the summer, following Warren speech at the Democrat Convention, a poll released earlier this week was the fourth in as many days to show Warren with an advantage over Brown after months that had the two candidates trading leads.