Tuesday June 19, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Scott Brown said Monday that he’ll agree to a debate proposed by the widow of Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, but only if she agrees to remain neutral throughout the Senate race and the media sponsors are changed to exclusively local state news outlets.

Victoria Kennedy sent letters to the Massachusetts Republican and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, inviting them to go head-to-head at the University of Massachusetts campus, near where the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is being built.

A spokeswoman for the Kennedy Institute responded Monday, saying the organization looks forward to negotiating the terms of the debate with both campaigns.

Warren has agreed to the Sept. 27 debate. Brown at first declined to say whether he would participate.

On Monday, Brown’s campaign issued a release saying he’d agree to the debate as long as what his campaign called "neutrality conditions" are met by Kennedy.

One of those conditions is that she agrees not to endorse any candidate in the race. Another is that only Mass achusetts news outlets participate in the event, meaning that MSNBC could not serve as a sponsor, although Tom Brokaw could remain as moderator.

"In order to proceed, we need to know that in keeping with the spirit of neutrality expressed in Vicki Kennedy’s letter that she will not endorse or otherwise get involved in this race," Brown’s campaign manager Jim Barnett wrote in a letter dated Monday to the Kennedy Institute.


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"Furthermore, while we accept Tom Brokaw as a moderator, we prefer debates with local media sponsors, not out-of-state cable networks with a reputation for political advocacy," Barnett added. "We are confident that issue can be easily addressed as there are a number of Massachusetts media outlets that would be willing to sponsor a debate."

An institute spokeswoman declined to respond directly to the Brown campaign’s conditions.

"The Edward M. Kennedy Institute and the University of Massachusetts Boston look forward to discussing the terms of the debate in person with the Brown campaign and the Warren campaign," institute spokeswoman Debra DeShong Reed said.

Reed said that both organizations teamed up to sponsor a debate between Brown and then-rival Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010 "in a fair and impartial way."

"We look forward to doing the same in September," Reed said. "We welcome the opportunity to negotiate specific terms and formats while sitting at the table with representatives of the moderator and both campaigns."

Brown campaign spokesman Colin Reed then said before any meeting to negotiate logistical details, it would have to be assured that Vicki Kennedy would remain neutral and there would be only local media sponsors, conditions Reed said "should have nothing to do with Elizabeth Warren."

Brown, who won the 2010 special election to fill the seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death, famously campaigned by saying, "It’s not the Kennedy seat. And it’s not the Democrats’ seat. It’s the people’s seat." Brown has also on occasion invoked Kennedy’s legacy and said he keeps a picture of Kennedy on his office mantel.

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 two other television debates: one sponsored by a Springfield media consortium and the other by Boston’s 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.