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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Using the Debate to Look Forward

"I have faults but being wrong isn't one of them." - Jimmy Hoffa

I hate the spin room. I understand its purpose. I understand its developed necessity. I understand it and this is why I hate it.

Djever notice how, if you ask a debater or their henchmen, they always say how well they debated? Does this not seem odd? A million debates including classic debaters from Socrates to Nero to Lincoln to Bartlet, and no one ever admits, "Boy, my opponent really wiped the floor with me." It's frustrating.

It's why, before my live blog, I wrote, "The debate should end at 8:30, when I will boycott all the analysis and spinning done afterwards." What's the point? I know what I saw. I can draw my own conclusions. Candidate X's campaign manager can tell me until they're blue in the face that their candidate beat expectations and outperformed the field...but that won't alter my perception.

As I wrote the aforementioned live blog, I formed my own opinions, and I ended up reading both similar and dissimilar opinions in papers and websites the next day. Here now, a paragraph on each candidates performance, making sure to include how their performances affect the race to the 2008 White House.


I think one more debate like that from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have themselves their first official viable candidate. Boatloads of money + right amount of experience + sensible national security = formidable opponent. I was not high on her heading into the debate, in fact preferring her after six other candidates in the field, if for no other reason than I thought she was truly unelectable. However, on a stage with six savvy politicians and Mike Gravel, she held her own and outperformed all but one or two of them. Aside from closing with a shrilly rant, she was articulate, even-tempered, optimistic, and delivered one of the great lines of the night, as off-hand as it may have been, when she was asked about mistakes that she has made, she offered this throw away comment at the end of the list: "And, you know, believing the president..." Impact: Hillary has quickly become an electable candidate.

As much as Clinton exceeded many people's expectations, Barack Obama came up short of them. It's difficult for Senator Obama, as debates are often a game of expectations. Coming in above lowered expectations is more attractive than coming in below raised ones. This will be a theme on this blog for all debates throughout the next 18 months. Impact: Obama shouldn't be hurt too badly, as I can't imagine anyone who was leaning Obama was convinced to go running elsewhere yet. He'll still pack the house and give quality speeches, but he's going to need to find a way to translate some of that inspirational oratory into a debate format.

I'm seeing mixed reviews on the performance of John Edwards. I'm not sure if it was the "moral leader" 11-second pause or the vague explanation of the remedied $400 dollar haircut (what he meant was that it wasn't supposed to be paid by campaign money, and he rectified it), but Edwards seems to have disappointed people. Here's the thing about Edwards' performance: It didn't lose him anything, but saying things like his lord and wife are his inspirations mixed in with his other populist responses and it shows he's clearly trying to be the wide-appeal candidate. Impact: Edwards will continue to fundraise and poll very well in the South and Midwest, while admirably coming in third elsewhere.

And then we get to Bill Richardson, who looked more lost than the kids from Blair Witch. What was up with him? I'm a fan of his, but I have to admit he stunk up the joint worse than Jorge Posada without deodorant after catching a doubleheader. In an evening that saw Joe Biden with a tongue-in-cheek one-word response in a self-deprecating answer regarding his wordy nature, Governor Richardson more than picked up the slack. As a colleague of mind said on Friday, "Richardson did Joe Biden better than Joe Biden." Richardson's verbosity was a huge roadblock in getting voters to pay attention to him. Impact: Unless Richardson can learn to boil down his answers so that a majority of voters can not only understand him but keep their eyes open, Richardson has no shot in this election.

I was very pleased with the performances of Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, who are so similar in this campaign that I will address them together. I'll say this off the top: Chris Dodd won the debate. As a Nutmegger, I don't think Dodd has what it takes to win a national election, but on Thursday night, there was not one point where I thought he faltered or could have done better. Joe Biden started slow, but ever since Mike Gravel called him out, Biden caught on fire. It was almost enough to convince me that someone has to rattle his cage before every debate or public appearance to get him to cease the wordy rhetoric and put on quite a show. Second half Joe Biden was funny, sensible, and resonated with a lot of voters. Impact: Old, East Coast liberal Senators, the both of them, Dodd and Biden's biggest weakness, aside from fundraising, will be their decades-long tenure in Washington. At the debate, they both made quality steps reversing that weakness into a strength.

Always a pleasure to have in any debate, Dennis Kucinich of Borg once again succeeded in getting the legitimate candidates in the field to respond to liberal issues and an extreme war position. He knows he's not in it to win it. He also knows that if someone doesn't breathe some far left fire into the debate, a centrist Democrat will still look liberal. Impact: None. Kucinich takes his noble and loyal supporters minimal contributions and rides it until the second week of February and drops out.

Finally, I'd like to thank Mike Gravel for his hilarious contribution to Thursday's debate. If the election cycle was further along, I'd be frustrated, even furious, that he wasted our time. Thursday's debate, however, was the earliest presidential debate in the history of the country. Why not mix in a little comic relief before this thing gets in full swing? Impact: Gravel sees an overnight spike in fundraising, then collects about eight-five cents the rest of his campaign.

Speaking of unintentional comedy, I look forward to James Gilmore's contribution to this Thursday's Republican debate. Debates in April in May in the previous year of an election...you gotta love it.

1 comment:

sptmck@hotmail.com said...

Richardson was SUCH A BLAIR WITCH lost boy.

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