I watched two debates in Senate races tonight – Richard Blumenthal vs. Linda McMahon in Connecticut and Rob Portman vs. Lee Fisher in Ohio. I was struck by the difference in quality. It seemed to me that both Ohio candidates debated considerably better than their Connecticut counterparts.
Blumenthal seemed stiff and artificial (to say phony, which is what I really think, would probably reflect too much of my bias). He looked every bit the “professional politician” that McMahon repeatedly said he is.
Blumenthal’s explanation of his false claims about serving in Vietnam was laughable. And the audience did laugh when he characterized the present economy as “good times.” Blumenthal seemed almost equally clueless when he tried, in response to a clever question from McMahon, to explain how jobs are created.
McMahon came across as more natural and candid. But she was frequently on the defensive, particularly regarding various aspects of her business, the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Most of her substantive answers were okay, but she seemed at times to be rushing through talking points so she could get back to defending herself against Blumenthal’s attacks.
In the end, I fear that Blumenthal’s skills as a professional politician may have given him an advantage over the more honest and open McMahon in this debate, as he seemed to keep her on the defensive with personal attacks while outflanking her on some of the substantive issues. Let’s hope that if his comparative slickness won Blumenthal the battle, it will cost him the war.
In the Ohio debate, which I saw about half of, Portman and Fisher both seemed fluent, crisp, knowledgeable, and mostly on-point. Both landed plenty of punches and both counter-punched well. If there was any advantage, it was perhaps with Portman who struck me as a little more attractive and at-ease.
I’m not terribly good at figuring out how political debates will affect a campaign, but my guess is that when the dust settles, Blumenthal and Portman will continue to lead in their respective races.
UPDATE: Mytheos Holt of NRO’s Battle 10 blog offers a less positive view of Lee Fisher’s performance in the Ohio debate, along with a blow-by- blow account.
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