March 10, 2004
First of all let me just say that this debate structure was a snooze. I understand that the individual response format was chosen to keep things positive and was meant to be an open platform for candidates to present themselves to the voters. That’s fine, but it just doesn’t make for a very interesting event on which to comment. It’s like getting your written information about the candidates from their official websites. Canned, neutered, and boring.
In my view there are two types of debate reviews. Those that assess the whole event from start to finish and those that measure how the public received the debate from the sound bites that get shown on the nightly news and in the next day’s newspapers. The latter type has more resonance and matters the most. But this report will be from someone who sat and watched the whole boring affair from start to finish. So take it for what it is.
One more note about the format. I think that it favored Hynes and Hull. Because Hynes is playing the ‘keep it positive’ game, this non-confrontational set-up played right into his strategy. In fact, the whole event seemed like a debate between five John Edwards clones. “You made a good point Dan. No, your point was better Barack.” The format also helped Hull, because he is a terrible speaker and an even worse debater. This allowed him to just regurgitate his canned lines (though even that wasn’t entirely successful).
On to the report card:
Pappas: Maria has the problem of not being able to distinguish between staying on message and just repeating that message. She was Scott McClellanesque with her parroting of her one talking point. Did you catch that she’s a different non-suit candidate? I understand that this is her angle to grab the woman’s vote, but there are more tactful ways of doing this than just plopping that line in front of every answer. I watched the debate with my girlfriend and she snickered at Pappas every time she opened her mouth. I can’t imagine other Illinois woman responded differently. She also looked amateurish when she kept looking down at her notes during her closing statement. How hard is it to memorize a two-minute speech that you have probably been sputtering out for months? Solid C-, and that’s generous because she seemed restrained tonight.
Hull: Basically, he was his usual wooden self: a few verbal blunders but nothing too bad. He didn’t make things any worse for him and the divorce incident might finally be off the front burner. But he also didn’t do anything spectacular to help him in any way. A perfect example was his response to the affirmative action question. Not that any of the candidates had anything substantial to say, but Hull just blabbed around the question with easy platitudes. He doesn’t have the verbal skills to gain anything in a live forum. I’ll give him a B for treading water.
Hynes: I thought his overall performance was just fair. Not nearly as good as the last debate, which is surprising because as I said above I think this format favored his ‘stay positive’ strategy. He continued with that non-confrontational style for most of the debate but did go on the offensive against Obama about his alleged acquiesce to the George Ryan machine. After the debate, he returned to this point, so perhaps we can expect to see a little more negativity from the Hynes corner in the next few days. [That this comment was the highlight of the debate should tell you how boring it was.] I have to give Hynes a hard time for his appropriation of the 2000 Al Gore tactic of using individual stories to frame his final response. Talking about the struggles of Billy Bob from East Who Cares’ doesn’t give you populist points Dan; it just comes off as contrived and awkward just like it did for Mr. Gore (interestingly Bush did this in his SOTU speech and that bombed). On a fashion note, who’s picking out his ties? And that hair has gotten more Republicutish since the last debate. He gets a B for lacking the poise that he showed in the last debate.
Obama: As the frontrunner, he played it pretty safe tonight with a few easy jabs at Bush. He continues to hammer home his legislative experience, which I think is key because he has a way to back up his rhetoric where the other candidates don’t. The Paul Simon name dropping is voter gold. Nothing flashy tonight for him, but all he had to do was stay just slightly above the fray. B+ for keeping his eye on the prize.
Chico: Too bad for Gery that the whole campaign doesn’t consist of debates, because he may be the best of the lot. Of course, being completely out of contention he hasn’t been tested at all, but I think that he would handle it well. But we’ll never know because he’s not even close to being in the race. In general, he’s clearly defining himself as the progressive candidate with his embrace of gay marriage and the attack on Oberweis. I’m giving him an A- for slick speaking and an otherwise solid presence.
Place your raw reviews in the comment section.