Wednesday June 20, 2012

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 Massachu setts-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.

The noted 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.