Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Face Off

If you believe all the hype most of the American media has been pushing, tonight is supposed to be the 2012 presidential campaign event to end all campaign events. Forget the fact that the actual election isn't for another five weeks, forget the fact that - historically - political scientists say presidential debates don't usually matter much. Forget the fact that no one really knows which version of Mitt Romney will actually show up at Denver University tonight - as more than one pundit has mentioned.

The fact is, debates do matter, if in no other way than as an emotional rallying point for the supporters of each candidate, as we saw with the debates in Nebraska, Virginia, and Massachusetts on Monday night.

Of the three congressional debates, the most well-covered debate in the media on Tuesday was the Warren-Brown debate in Massachusetts. In short, Sen. Scott Brown acted like a coward and a bully, running from his associations with both 'Multiple Choice Mitt' and the Republican Party, while desperately trying to convince everyone he was independent.

Brown tried to smear Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren with attacks on her Native American heritage again, and was extremely condescending to Warren when the two candidates talked over one another at one point. Brown made a major mistake though, when asked to pick who his favorite Supreme Court justice was, by naming the most extremist Justice on the most extreme Supreme Court in history - current Justice Antonin Scalia.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, Virginia, retired Army colonel and Democratic House candidate Wayne Powell went into political battle with current Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. This was Cantor's first debate in a decade, having ducked out on his previous challengers - and it was obvious why Cantor had previously chosen the cowardly cop-out.

Powell nailed Cantor for abdicating his responsibility to Congress, to Virginians, and to the American people by refusing to even try to compromise with House Democrats. Cantor even tried to position a gutless one year extension of current tax policies as a positive position on tax reform. Powell blasted Cantor for that shirking of responsibility too.

Meanwhile, in the Nebraska Senate debate, former U.S. Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey got into details on multiple topics, including energy, campaign financing, taxes and spending. In contrast, Republican state senator Deb Fischer gave virtually no serious details - especially on taxes and budgets - while spouting slogans, platitudes, and what were obviously pre-scripted responses. Frankly, we wondered if extremist conservative anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist was hiding behind Fischer's podium the whole time.

In summary, all three debates had a massive amount of hype - and very little substance. While the Democratic candidates in all three debates seemed far better suited for higher office, we highly doubt any of these debates really changed the minds of serious voters.

That, in fact, is exactly what we expect from the presidential debate tonight: that the event simply won't live up to the hype. As we noted to start today's commentary, political scientists say presidential debates don't usually shift presidential campaign outcomes heavily one way or the other - and we tend not to argue with proven facts.

What might shift the effects of the debate more than anything President Obama or Mr. Romney might say is the post-debate spin. Frankly, no matter which Mitt Romney shows up tomorrow night, we highly doubt the overall spin will end up in his favor.

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