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An uncommitted person's reaction to the debate one day later

by: teacherken

Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 09:22:35 AM EDT

As I look back at my reactions to the debate in real time and examine the spinning being done by all sides, and then glance at the preliminary coverage from around the state, I have a number of reactions.

Moran, while a bit inconsistent, did a far better job of displaying his passion on some issues, and was able to do so without being over the top in his tone and volume of voice.  That has been a problem in the past.

One can argue whether or not he should have gone after McAuliffe on Global Crossing, but if his intent was to get under Terry's skin a bit, Terry interrupting or answering back in defense before being given 30 additional seconds by Ben seems to indicate that Brian was a little successful in that regard.  It is to my mind an open question as to whether he was too negative.  One can view his attacks as a means of rallying his base support, and emphasizing his argument that he is fighter.  There is also the possibility that some uncommitted voters may be turned off by an impression that he was the most negative towards opponents of the three.

More below the fold.

teacherken :: An uncommitted person's reaction to the debate one day later
I have said in the past the McAuliffe makes a strong positive impression when people first encounter him, if they come with open minds.  The question would be how well he wears.  He has a tendency to be a bit more self-referential than the other two, which can have a negative impact on some.   He was able to display a grasp of details that to some degree undercut attacks on him for not knowing Virginia.  There were a few times where he reacted defensively, and when that happens it somewhat undercuts the image he is trying to portray that he is going to be all positive.  In that regard, it was interesting to watch Moran try to attack him for the 3 O'Clock ad Clinton ran against Obama.   While that might seem like a clever attack and a way of undercutting support among Obama voters (who according to the SUSA poll break in  McAuliffe's favor), I wonder if that becomes too much inside baseball for most people.  It might have some effect upon those most active in party affairs, but I do not know how that plays to the more casual primary participant, who may not care about such things.  Further, given that Clinton herself is now in a key position in the administration, subordinate to Obama, it might well fall into the category of "so what" in the minds of most people.  McAuliffe's response - that he didn't decide on the ads - while technically true, in a sense worked against him, because he argues from the basis of having led things which implies responsibility for the bad as well as the good.

In that regard, I think Creigh's attack on McAuliffe for not given money and the Dems in Virginia losing seats might actually carry more weight, even though later McAuliffe talked about directing money to the relevant national committee.  

On the other hand, the position Creigh took in raising that issue potential provides a weakness in comparison with Brian.  Creigh was caucus chair and the Dems lost seats.  Brian was caucus chair and the Dems won seats.    It seems to me that Creigh's raising that issue as an attack line on Terry opens him to attacks from supporters of Brian.

In general, I think Creigh still had the strongest overall performance.  He was able to make the point about running statewide, and losing narrowly because of being heavily outspent.  For that line to work, he will have to demonstrate - convince people - that he will not have trouble raising funds for the general election.    The reason I say I think he had the strongest overall performance was his ability to demonstrate that he is capable of (a) initiating an appropriate attack, and (b) successfully counterpunching, as he did towards Moran on a couple of situations.

Last night I wrote that the moment that meant the most to me worked in Creigh's favor, which was his ability to recognize that having access to arts and the like is not merely a matter of rounding out the person nor of the economic benefit it brings.   I suspect that not that many people grasped the difference in responses among the 3 on that issue, and thus my reaction is probably highly idiosyncratic.

Overall?  I saw nothing that leads to a major change in the dynamics of the race.  There are, however, several things worth noting.

1.  the back and forth between Moran and McAuliffe, especially with Deeds between them, quite possibly benefited Creigh, since the general impression for the casual viewer would probably be that he was less involved in the negativity, even though he offered attack lines against both opponents.  The back and forth he had with Moran pales in comparison to the back and forth between Brian and Terry.  If Virginia continues its tradition of rejecting negative campaigning, Deeds might benefit some.

2.  It was my impression that Moran very much wanted to discredit the SUSA poll, citing instead the Dkos poll taken somewhat earlier.  His action seemed to imply a need not to let the meme be that Terry is perceived as ahead and that he is playing catchup - perhaps because in that framing attacks on Terry might be perceived as acts of desperation.  

3.  All three candidates tried to avoid answering difficult questions, changing the subject to areas where they were more comfortable.  

4.  My distinct impression was that the one most consistently on the topic of the questions was Deeds, although I noted more than a few times when he also somewhat changed the topic.

5.  Let me note a key point:  I do not think there is any such thing as clean coal.  Nevertheless, there is a substantial economic interest in the use of Virginia coal.  In the context of coal, I am bothered that while the Surry plant was raised, there was no discussion of Wise.  Nor was there any discussion of mountaintop removal, which even beyond the issue of the dirtiness of coal is an important issue.  I was sorry that there were no questions connecting these various issues, and that none of the candidates took the opportunity to make the connections.

I was originally somewhat negative on the idea of Ben Tribbett running the debate.  I hereby acknowledge that he did a superb job, especially in determining when to interject a brief followup from the Twitter feed.  The quality of the questions were better than some of what we saw in the presidential debates, especially during the primary season.

Were I to give overall grades, Ben would get an A- and the panelists would be between B and B+.  As for the candidates?

Deeds  B++  -  Creigh still is not the most effective of public speakers, yet his passion for Virginia, his willingness to commit to things that might not be to his benefit, and his willingness to admit that on some issues he is a work in progress I think came across as almost endearing.  I think his style in this context made people want him to be successful.

Moran -  probably a B -  there were some very strong moments, but sometimes his most impassioned statements were immediately followed by a smile that seemed out of context, almost disconcerting.  It seems as if he is still trying to find where to draw the line when he initiates an attack.  He was somewhat better in counter-punching exchanges than he has been in the past.

McAuliffe   B-  possibly as low as a C+ -  less on content than on other issues:  his interrupting of the others came across as a bit rude.  He was the only one whom Ben had to tell to be quiet because the time belonged to another.   At times he came across as a bit defensive.  I thought he was not properly prepared for the Global Crossing issue - his response, while technically accurate, did not really answer the line of attack offered by Moran.

Still, other than possibly boosting the chances of Deeds somewhat, I saw nothing that fundamentally changed the dynamics of the race.   It is still a question of size and geographic distribution and nature of the primary turnout.  Those factors tend to disfavor Deeds, and favor the other two.   On the question of size, the larger the turnout, the more likely to be including people who are not as attuned to normal Democratic politics, which increases the chances of McAuliffe being successful.

For myself, I have not yet made up my mind.  There is, after all, a debate as late as May 19.  I would certainly like to see further polling data -  we still have additional people who can register, so we do not even know the size of the possible universe of voters.  

I have in my mind begun to order the three candidates, but that order is not yet fixed.  When I decide, I will post my decision and my reasons.  Until then, I will - as I did today - from time to time offer my perspective as one as yet undecided voter.


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A fair enough analysis
and I agree that Deeds came off slightly better than the other two, Moran and McAuliffe, who in some ways made Deeds look the most ready to be Governor of all Virginia---- except that Deeds' public speaking problems may put him at a disadvantage when dealing with smooth-talkin' Bob McDonnell (is that spelled right?).

McAuliffe's ready spouting of statistics shows he crams for his exams just fine. Moran's negativity seemed suddenly to come out of nowhere, as if he despertely wanted to get it in but had not had an opening to do so, so he just threw it out aporpos of nothing actually under discussion (or did I miss something?). I'm not sure how primary voters will react: does this mean Moran has shown that he is the best choice to duke it out with the Republican in the general?

In fact, that's still my real question: which one is the best for the general election campaign? Which one can clean Bob the Republican's clock?

re: Deeds' public speaking problems
are certainly a tad worrisome but...

I remember the first time I saw and heard Jim Webb. My overpowering thought was: "*this* is what we'd be putting against that theatrical weasel (that was before I knew his real name was Macaca)??? We'd be lost, for certain-sure... Yeah, he's as honest as the day is long and that self-effacing mien is kind-of cute and even endearing, but... Where's the punch? Where's the glibness? He's not gonna convince anyone who's not convinced already; he doesn't seem convinced himself. And what's with this ramrod up his backside? I know he's military, but...

The second time I heard Jim Webb -- a month or so later, after the primaries -- he was a whole lot better. No longer the stiff stick worried about his reception, and much more fluent in his answers; obviously, answering the same questions over and over and over again gives one practice.

Indeed, he was so much better, that I thought I could risk dragging my husband to Webb's third appearance in the area. My husband had voted for Miller in the primaries (I didn't vote in the primaries, having no firm opinion either way) and, while prepared to vote for Webb in the general, was not happy about it. But, when we got home from that third appearance, he was as "sold" on Webb as I was (though, to this day, he refers to him as "your Senator") -- Webb was that good by then.

I remember those days, whenever Deeds sounds like he's muddled about what he wants and needs to say. I think that, once he has a clear goal -- annihilate McDonnell -- he'll be up to it. It's having to "sell" himself without doing terminal damage to the other two candidates -- either one of whom he might be expected to support, wholeheartedly, after June 9th -- that's tying his tongue in knots.

[ Parent ]
Problem is that Creigh's been in public service for many years
at least 15, right?  Jim Webb was a novice who demonstrated an ability to absorb lessons quickly and turn things around by the end of the election.  His development as a debater was very impressive.  Creigh, on the other hand, does not appear to be able to improve beyond where he currently is.  For whatever the reason he does not appear to be able to step up his game to a consistently good performance.

[ Parent ]
On thing Creigh has...
Is "passion" as Ken noted for Virginia.  And yes, while being a good public speaker and being able to think quickly on your feet is important it isn't the main thing.  Even my wife who is not a political fan or follower noted that while Terry sounded more "articulate" she noted that Brian and Creigh just seemed more "genuine" and "connected" when talking about certain issues.  (These are her words, not mine)

And on a little side note, I think we can all attest that being a good public speaker is not a strong necessity for public office.  Can we all remember President Bush? He had a hard enough time forming a complete sentence a good portion of the time when answering non-scripted questions.  

Deeds, Signer and Shannon

[ Parent ]
Creigh's had plenty of practice
I have the utmost respect for him as a Virginia legislator and for the passion he brings to the job, and as a person, you couldn't find someone nicer.  However, I've had concerns about his speaking and ability to get a message out while stammering and hestitating.  I've seen him speak in very small groups at local committee meetings and in large, and he's just not consistent or polished.  Seems to get wound up and flustered easily, then trips over his words.  When people don't speak in a smooth manner, one tends to focus on when the next stumble or stammer will happen, and not what they are saying.  I don't think this is going to improve as he spends more time doing it.  Remember, he had an entire campaign against McDonnel to practice in 2005.  I don't expect his style to change.

[ Parent ]
Good job, Ken, and agreed, Teddy - the big question is... who can win in November?

I attended the debate last night with several Roanoke County friends - all but one of whom is a Deeds supporter - and we agreed that McAuliffe "won" the debate, that Deeds neither helped nor hurt himself, and that Moran came across as negative, self-absorbed and too pugnacious and was the clear debate loser.

While it's currently looking like McAuliffe may win the primary, will he be the best candidate against McDonnell in November?

I have strong concerns about that...



I watched the video and did a flow of the debate as it occurred
placing the questions and then the answers of each candidate in columns beside each other.  In my opinion Creigh and Brian were very close.  Brian's presentation was better, but on some issues such as the comments on Terry's failure to support Virginia Dems while chair of the DNC Creigh had a more substantive answer.  That was one of his highlights.  

On a number of questions Terry did not provide any substance at all.  These included the gun shows question and the police/firefighter collective bargaining question, where he piggybacked onto Brian and Creigh's comments and said they all agreed.  Brian had a more substantive and visceral response on the gun control question, reaching into his background as a prosecutor and bartender, while Creigh went on the attack against him.  Frankly, Brian won that argument in the end, but Terry was just a bystander.

Terry chose to address the state and local issue of student voting rights by touting his record of building a "voter file" and claiming credit for the expansion of Democratic grassroots.  I think there are those within the national party who would beg to differ, but more to the point he really didn't answer the question.

On equal pay Terry didn't really talk about it except to say he support the Ledbetter law.  Yeah, so do Brian and Creigh.  In fact, all three argued that equal pay is tied to increased access to education, although Terry must have said "jobs" six or seven times.  Brian connected well by citing a study linking the pay gap to inadequate education and with his story of his father and his kids.  Creigh went straight for the issue of money devoted to education and had the most impressive number, the 78% increase in tuition costs for Virginia students.  I think Brian edged Creigh, but it was close, and by that time Terry's constant refrain of "jobs, jobs, jobs" was beginning to sound canned.

All three of the candidates ducked the Smithfield question so quickly that I almost expected one to shout "goose!", but alas, it was not to be.  Creigh seemed oddly off balance from this question, eventually saying he didn't know if he's ever received Smithfield money, but figures  he must have just from long presence in the legislature.  Yes, that's what happen when you're actually working as a state legislator.  Terry's lack of any connection with elective Virginia office allows him to parade the kind of purity which comes from being a brand new, sprung from the head of Zeus just six months ago type of candidate.  New clothes are always clean and crisp and smell nice.  Anyway, Terry and Brian both sounded good, but since the question really had to do with preventing the deleterious environmental effects of something other than chicken waste I'd give that one to Brian.

Just hopping around some of the other issues, Brian said there should be no discrimination and he and Creigh went all lawyer-y on the Interstate Compact question, which actually is a very difficult legal issue.  Terry simply said no discrimination, period.  Sounds good, but Brian was right, it IS a complex issue.  Terry tends to skim over complexities and nuance, preferring instead to be the big picture guy.  That's great if he's the salesman, not so much if he's the CEO.  This question highlighted his weakness as a candidate, his lack of depth in administration and the cold, boring work of governing.

On who's best against Bob Terry invited attack by claiming he would never attack a Democrat, which contradicts his history, but in my opinion Brian needs to stop getting so exercised over it.  The funny thing is that Terry's repeated and rude interruptions of Brian at this point made him seem desperate to avoid discussion of little matters like Global Crossing and his aggressive campaign against Obama.  Dozens of videotaped news show appearances can't be wrong.  This issue seems to worry him.  His focus on Brian allowed Creigh to get in a couple of licks about NAFTA, Terry's failure to show real support of Va. Dems before his miraculous remaking as a gubernatorial candidate, and I think his failure to support Obama.  I was getting sleepy by this point and losing focus.  Terry keeps throwing Brian a softball with his "I'm the candidate of big ideas" schtick, but Brian keeps waiting for a better pitch.  Why?  

Yeah, when I first started out I had plenty of big ideas about the best way to raise kids, win a case, or fix my plumbing, and on most of them reality hit me in the face like a mildewing damp towel.  We have one of those towels in the General Assembly.  It's called the Republican party.  Terry can have all the big ideas he wants. How is he going to make them work?


[ Parent ]
Great analysis, Ken
To elaborate on people coming to Terry with "open minds:" I think that for his campaign, a mind that is ignorant of who Terry is, is better than a mind that already knows Terry but is open to supporting him.  Most voters don't know that McAuliffe was the head of the DNC and chair of Hillary's campaign.  These are not necessarily bad things but they mean little to the average Virginia voter who is fiercely independent.  I think the lack of knowledge works in his favor.  It's why he's not touting that very much as part his record.

On the issues where Brian stands out, such as the environment and health care, I think he came across very strongly.  I also agree that Creigh's attacks were more effective in substance than, but Brian's were more effective in the reactions they produced from his opponents.  The Global Crossing issue was brought up in the debate the night before, so Terry should've been prepared for that.

I also want to congratulate Ben on his performance.  I originally stayed away from contributing to the questions because I disapproved of him moderating, but I was impressed last night.  I'm glad someone finally asked the clean coal question.

Full disclosure:  I'm a Brian Moran supporter and former Creigh Deeds supporter.

A little bit different take
Moran: Definitely had some strong moments; when he shows some passion, he can even, with that Massachusetts accent, sound like some long lost Kennedy cousin.  But I think he really blew it with his negativity, particularly with reading his attack lines right off the page, as Terry rightly teased him for doing.  Some people know how to be negative and come off smelling like a rose, but clearly Brian is not one of those people.

Deeds:  Yes, I like the guy and I wish he would do better, but to say he has some issues with public speaking is a gross understatement.  He almost comes across as if he has some kind of disability, with his halting, unsure, back and forth style.  Somebody needs to lock the man in a room with a speech coach and not let him out until he's permanently coherent.  Also, his campaign and his positions on some issues have been too mushy and lame.

McAuliffe:  I agree that a lot of his answers were superficial, and he spent the most time veering away from the topic, probably because he didn't have a relevant answer to provide.  But he had the fewest cringe-inducing moments of the three.  He communicates things in too simple of a manner for my taste, but I can see where that might sell to a certain slice of the electorate.

Verdict?  Like teacherken, I remain undecided.  These guys all need to polish up their acts if they are going to defeat B-Mac.

On a different note about Speech
Coming from someone who has a speech impediment I pay attention to a lot of speech and delivery and everything else with oral communication.  So I re-listened to the entire debate this morning to get an even better sense of everyone commenting and this is what I now ask:

Is it me or is Terry picking up a Southern accent on some of his words?  It came out more towards the end of the debate and I think it was noticeable.  I'm not trying to say this as a bad thing being a Deeds supporter going after Terry but just something I noticed and was wondering if anyone else picked up on it.

Deeds, Signer and Shannon Supporter

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