October 18, 2006
Thoughts on the Debate

Interesting debate last night between Maria Cantwell, Bruce Guthrie, and Mike McGavick, even before you get to Aaron Dixon's arrest. I've spent a good amount of time dissecting Maria Cantwell's policy positions, such as on Social Security and terrorist detainees, and campaign tactics, such as hidden ads (which I note is still in hiding at Cantwell's website) and dodging debates. That criticism still stands, but for a change of pace, I'll attempt to look at the debate as an independent observer, and analyze candidate performance and potential impact on the race accordingly.

Summary: Differences were clearly expressed, though perhaps in part due to the debate format there were no testy exchanges between the candidates. Voters did have the pleasure of seeing another candidate in the race, though on the whole may have been better served having only the two major candidates in attendance so that the hour-long debate could have included rebuttals to respective answers. Such a format would have given voters a better chance to see the clarity between Cantwell and McGavick, in an otherwise blase spectacle.

Here's how the candidates performed:

Maria Cantwell

Good - Seemed to position herself well as more moderate than her base, chastising the Bush administration on several issues without falling into the Darcy Burner trap of sounding like an anti-Bush puppet. Her closing statement emphasized her work on Enron, agricultural markets, border security, and law enforcement - not exactly the burning issues of liberal activists. She also didn't seem to stumble overtly, thus achieving perhaps her biggest goal as the current front-runner.

Bad - Despite what appears to be clear training on how to appear more warm and friendly, Cantwell still came off as a bit stilted and sour during some portions of the debate, notably while not speaking on the split-screen view. Her smiles at times appeared forced, and perhaps not appropriate to the mood of the question (smiling during an answer on a serious topic like abortion didn't seem to fit). She also, and perhaps more importantly, failed to lay out a real agenda of what she plans to do in her next six years, rather than simply offering a defense of her first term. Her prediliction to being a policy wonk may serve her well in the halls of the Senate, but does her few favors in speaking clearly to voters.

Bruce Guthrie

Good - Was on the stage last night, giving him a chance to broadcast a unique message many voters had yet to hear.

Bad - Was on the stage last night, giving voters the chance to see he's not well prepared, or doesn't have serious positions, on a number of issues important to the nation and/or the state.

Mike McGavick

Good - Seized the chance to create clear distinctions between he and Cantwell. Kept things civil, serious, and thoughtful; a notable portion of the electorate will appreciate that. Offered a much clearer vision than Cantwell on addressing the major challenges facing the country, notably federal spending, Social Security, and the war on terror.

Bad - His steady work in recent weeks to draw lines of contrast between he and Cantwell was helped by the debate, though not overwhelmingly so. The differences between he and Cantwell are clear to the informed voter, and McGavick has established himself as a highly credible candidate to the serious observer, regardless of party politics. But, he has yet to embed a clear message of why Cantwell deserves to be voted out of office. The debate format did McGavick few favors in that regard, but it remains an overall challenge for his campaign in the remaining weeks.

Thoughts encouraged in the comments. For those interested, news coverage of the debate is available in spades from: the Seattle Times, the Seattle PI, the Tacoma News Tribune, and the Everett Herald. I'll have more to add on the debate from partisan perspective a bit later.

Posted by Eric Earling at October 18, 2006 06:55 AM | Email This
Comments
1. I noticed only one stark difference between Cantwell and McGavick. Cantwell has longer hair.

Posted by: The Black Hand on October 18, 2006 07:19 AM
2. Guthrie was a joke. Too bad a third party candidate couldn't be a bit more prepared for his time in the sportlight. What a waste it was to have him at the debate.

Posted by: blah on October 18, 2006 07:45 AM
3. McGavick blew it when he called for Rumsfeld's resignation and suggested that a "bipartisan panel" should take over the Iraq War.

I actually agree that Bush has bungled badly in Iraq, and I'm not particularly opposed to Rumsfeld being replaced. But McGavick undoubtedly alienated far more Republicans than he attracted independents by publicly calling for him to go.

And the bipartisan panel idea is just dumb. As badly as we have done in Iraq, the Democrats have no sensible, grown-up alternative to offer.

(I take some comfort in pointing out that I've been saying since at least June that McGavick would be a mediocre senator.)

Posted by: ScottM on October 18, 2006 07:58 AM
4. Eric:

The notion that you are an "independent oserver" is laughable. You are no more an "independent observer" than I am.

And correct usage is "between him and Cantwell," not "between he and Cantwell."

Posted by: ivan on October 18, 2006 08:07 AM
5. I just realized that my last post implied that he said the Iraq stuff during the debate. I didn't watch the debate, so I have no idea if he reiterated it or not.

Posted by: ScottM on October 18, 2006 08:07 AM
6. Somebody wake me up when this "debate" is over. I think Lincoln-Douglas just rolled over in there graves. What a bore, the candidates could not engage each other, while McGavick did a decent job, he was unable to call Cantwell out on her record.
Whoever negotiated this debate format from Cantwell's team should get, well 85k a year.

Posted by: jake on October 18, 2006 08:33 AM
7. It's the Economy, Stupid!!!

I don't know what is wrong with the Republicans. The DOW just surpassed 12,000; I don't hear any trumpeting of the Bush tax cuts, which Cantwell certainly hasn't helped.

Many, many on-the-street people still think we are in the Boeing recession of three years ago.

There is nothing to be ashamed of.

Cantwell talked good in this format. However, her smirks were a little irritating and she talked down to us on a number of issues.

Posted by: swatter on October 18, 2006 08:38 AM
8. ivan: Eric never said he was an independent observer, he said he would ATTEMPT to address the debate from that standpoint. If you have any intellectual honesty, you have to admit he did well in the attempt. Don't assume everybody is as incapable as you.

And, if your interest is just in picking nits, it should have been "between Cantwell and him", not "between him and Cantwell". The pronoun follows the proper noun.

Posted by: sr0 on October 18, 2006 08:53 AM
9. The notion that you are an "independent oserver" is laughable. You are no more an "independent observer" than I am. - Ivan the Hypocrite

Yet unlike a typical union goon, it appears Eric can step outside of a partisan echo chamber and offer an objective point of view on the debate. Would you care to offer criticism of his observations other than a grammatical error?

Posted by: jimg on October 18, 2006 08:59 AM
10. Not in Ivan's socialist school system. Besides the effort is worth more than the results. Right Ivan? Kids that are not as smart should get A's if they try hard, even though they get the answer wrong. The kids that are smart and don't have to work as hard to get the right answer are evil and intolerant.

As for the breakdown, that sounds fairly good and I look forward to the contrast Eric's partisan view brings. I doubt any F-bombs, but hopefully goldy will post a response. You know he really puts the "cl" in ass.

Posted by: Dengle on October 18, 2006 09:04 AM
11. McGavick is toast and there's nothing any of you can do about it but come on your little right wing echo chamber blog and whine.

Posted by: ivan on October 18, 2006 09:10 AM
12. Why is he toast Ivan? What because the polls have him down? Well he is an intresting little tid-bit about the polls of late.

while it's likely that some 2004 Republicans have stopped identifying as Republicans, and some may have even switched parties, it's unlikely that the partisan difference has gone from 0 to the range of 5 to 11 points that we have seen in recent surveys. I concur. Well, maybe 5, but I'm very doubtful of an 11 percentage point shift.

It turns out that the MSM polls have used a higher number of D's than R's to skew there polls.

http://tks.nationalreview.com/

Posted by: TrueSoldier on October 18, 2006 09:35 AM
13. sorry should have been "here" instead of he in the tthird sentence.

Posted by: TrueSoldier on October 18, 2006 09:36 AM
14. Was I watching a different debate? I saw nothing from Cantwell or McGavick in this debate that wasn't in the Spokane debate, just them trading canned soundbites.

On the other hand, Guthrie was the only one calling McGavick on Republican spending and challenging Cantwell on the war. I'll grant he wasn't as polished as the others, but he seemed genuine IMO.

I'd love to hear more on what issues you thought he wasn't serious on.

Posted by: Ben W. on October 18, 2006 10:02 AM
15. Ben W: can you say "illegal immigration"? Apparently, Guthrie can't.

Posted by: katomar on October 18, 2006 10:11 AM
16. Guthrie was obviously not prepared for the Hanford question. His answer had tangents on his tangents.

I agree with the poster who wrote he said "Democrats and Republicans" too much. It was like he wasn't a serious candidate but just wanted to point out what was wrong with the two parties.

I also liked Mike's answer on abortion - it was sensible and not extreme either way. And at least he had an answer on Social Security, as compared to Cantwell's non-answer.

I would have preferred a different format for the debate as well, where the candidates respond to each other. It's less scripted that way.

Posted by: Palouse on October 18, 2006 10:29 AM
17. Cantwell still came off as a bit stilted and sour during some portions of the debate, notably while not speaking on the split-screen view. Her smiles at times appeared forced, and perhaps not appropriate to the mood of the question ..

And what was with those HUGE sighs she let loose when she was done talking? My God, the woman was so nervous we could see her exhale on the split screen.

Posted by: Cheryl on October 18, 2006 10:36 AM
18. Stef and many on sound politics are in this case, too partisan to call it the way it was, at the very least - a draw. More likely a Cantwell victory in that she knew the "talking points" that would appeal to Rossi voters who do not like George Bush. Sounds like McGavick has some polling that suguest he needs to sure up...."Limbaugh" base. Which could be accurate, but not likely to gain enough ground in Washington State this year with those tired old lines. McGavick sounds like a great businessman and committed public servant, but this year it is about Iraq -- and no way to confuse people any longer that War in Iraq (reasons for going to war) are/is different than War on Terror (against Islamic Fundamentalist). MCgavick cannot get out from under Bush/Rumsfield cloud. Too bad, cause McGavick does seem to have the right stuff to represent Washington State.

Posted by: Once At City on October 18, 2006 11:11 AM
19. I was actually a little disappointed the debate wasn't a blow out. As I discussed here, however, Bruce Guthrie could have been either been dynamite or a dud. In my mind, he proved to be the latter, and he spoiled the debate format without contributing enough to any of the substantive questions.

As for McGavick, he was both civil and pointed in his replies, though he didn't deliver any knockout blows. He did actually face his opponents when they were talking, and had you could see from his expression whether he agreed or disagreed with what they were saying--that wasn't reciprocated by the other two on the stage.

One note from a friend: I was asked whether the candidates received the questions in advance. Apparently all three candidates seemed a bit too rehearsed--something I credit to the poor debate format.

After having watched video of the Senate debates in PA, CT, NV, and now WA, I have to say our debates were the least interesting.

Posted by: Patrick on October 18, 2006 12:18 PM
20. This one is simple, Cantwell has not done the job, can Mike. If the voters feel Mike will represent them well, Maria has had it. We have too many things we must do that she does not even have the ability to talk about much less do what needs to be accomplished. I do not see the Boeing lumber yard standing still for the current things we have not accomplished in energy, and that is just one area.

Posted by: Hugh Coleman on October 18, 2006 03:12 PM
21. It was clear to me that Maria still waivers at times on her past voting record and McGavick's ability to recall it at opportune times during these debates. At times it appeared as though she couldn't even remember the specific vote McGavick referred to in pointing out clear differences between her voting style and what he "would have done." Is it possible our incumbant uses a rubber stamp style politic on some of these important issues?

Posted by: EasternExposure on October 18, 2006 04:44 PM
22. Cantwell is making a good gamble by playing to the middle. She had better hope the middle hasn't been paying attention while she has done nothing for the state.

Guthrie- I'm glad he's in the race, because he's only stealing votes from Cantwell's base with those nutty positions.

Truth be told- I think Guthrie did a poor job of representing the Libertarian viewpoint- or I have been giving Libertarians too much credit.

McGavick was spot on- but is he prepared to make good on his alternative energy talking point?

Posted by: Andy on October 18, 2006 10:58 PM
23. Guthrie did seem a little flustered a couple of times, paused, and needed to look at notes,etc. However, the idea that he took no serious positions is strange. On a few questions he was the only candidate who even had a distinct answer. Cantwell especially avoided answering questions altogether. I guess people like the "same old same old" non-answers and Dem/Rep similarities.

If anything Guthrie gave a more "mainstream" Libertarian viewpoint that didn't seem "extreme" at all. I mean I guess believing in the Constitution ( remember when Republicans did?)IS very extreme these days.

Posted by: Jack on October 19, 2006 02:12 PM
24. I have to point out that I only found out that KING 5 was actually going to let me into the debate about 4 or 5 days before the debate was taped. McGavick and Cantwell each had over a month to rehearse. That's why they looked over-rehearsed, over-coached and wooden. I don't know if they were given the questions in advance, but I sure wasn't. I think I did pretty well given the time I had to prepare. Could you have done better?
A few MSM journalists are saying that I won.
I sure would like to know which of my views you folks found "whacky." They are all consistent with the Libertarian postions on limited government.
Republicans have no credibility on fiscal responsibility any more.
If the Republicans ever return to their limited government, individual rights principles, that sure would save me a lot of hassle. Building a new political party is a hard struggle!
Care to join me?

Posted by: Bruce Guthrie on October 19, 2006 06:38 PM
25. I have to point out that I only found out that KING 5 was actually going to let me into the debate about 4 or 5 days before the debate was taped. McGavick and Cantwell each had over a month to rehearse. That's why they looked over-rehearsed, over-coached and wooden. I don't know if they were given the questions in advance, but I sure wasn't. I think I did pretty well given the time I had to prepare. Could you have done better?
A few MSM journalists are saying that I won.
I sure would like to know which of my views you folks found "whacky." They are all consistent with limited government.
Republicans have no credibility on fiscal responsibility any more.
If the Republicans ever return to their limited government, individual rights principles, that sure would save me a lot of hassle. Building a new political party is a hard struggle!
Care to join me?

Posted by: Bruce Guthrie on October 19, 2006 06:40 PM
26. Excellent Job Bruce! For having so little time, you gave 'em hell! Of course, you'll have to remember that many people who come to these sorts of websites are invested to their political philosophy - so much so that when facts which contradict their beliefs smack them in the face, it makes no difference. There'll be plenty of nay-sayers, but most people are bored to tears with the lack of choices in the two-party system. Lord knows I am. Thanks for opening my eyes to the Libertarian Party.

Posted by: Coupeville Observer on October 20, 2006 12:54 AM
27. Excellent Job Bruce! For having so little time, you gave 'em hell! Of course, you'll have to remember that many people who come to these sorts of websites are invested to their political philosophy - so much so that when facts which contradict their beliefs smack them in the face, it makes no difference. There'll be plenty of nay-sayers, but most people are bored to tears with the lack of choices in the two-party system. Lord knows I am. Thanks for opening my eyes to the Libertarian Party.

Posted by: Coupeville on October 20, 2006 12:57 AM
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