Rivals poke Rounds over debates; Rounds pokes back

In case you missed it, on Sunday I reported about the inevitable “debate debate" that has popped up in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

As in just about every other election, front-running candidates want to minimize the number of debates, while underdogs want as many of them as possible.

Sure enough, Mike Rounds says debates can wait until the spring, when there can be a few of them put on by media organizations. Annette Bosworth and Larry Rhoden say there should be at least a debate a month from now until the June primary, if not more — both said eight more debates sounds about right. Stace Nelson went even further and said he’d like a debate in “every city and town in South Dakota.” (For anyone who’s not counting, that would be hundreds of debates, more debates than there are days remaining for the election, though Nelson was speaking about his “ideal world.”)

Seeing Bosworth, Nelson and Rhoden criticize Rounds for not appearing at debates so far was pretty expected, in a world where a cardboard cutout of Rounds has already shown up on the debate stage (courtesy of Bosworth). More surprising was Rounds’ pushback when asked about the criticism:

Rounds said his schedule of meet-and-greets, local Republican Party dinners and fundraising is too busy for debates now — and he suggested his rivals might have time to debate because they’re not working as hard.

“If the other candidates aren’t busy … if they’re not out trying to establish those types of direct contacts with the public, maybe they’ve got the time to sit around with other candidates and visit,” Rounds said. “I’ve got plenty of opportunity to do that as we get closer to the election.”

As the saying goes, politics ain’t beanbag.*

*Side note.: I had never, until now, looked up the precise origins of that phrase. The full context was a satirical newspaper column by Finley Peter Dunne, a wildly popular political humorist, in the words of his “Mr. Dooley" character — a "bachelor, a saloon-keeper and an eagle-eyed observer of politics and the human condition."

The full quote, which reads as politically incorrect today if you don’t pick up on the tongue-in-cheek nature of it, is: “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.”

Obama-Romney debate discussion

Feel free to share your comments before, during and after tonight’s presidential debate in this thread.

Last night’s debate

People who were following me on Twitter (or read certain blogs) know that I wasn’t impressed with Matt Varilek’s performance last night at the South Dakota Public Broadcasting debate between him and Rep. Kristi Noem.

I don’t think it was a disaster for Varilek, but it doesn’t have to be. He’s the underdog and needs to make the most of every opportunity he has on the stage with Noem. That list of opportunities is now down to one.

My perspective may be off on this, because I’ve seen these two candidates for a long time. Not much they say is really new to me, so I may focus on different things than undecided voters listening to the debate for the first time.

My major critique of Varilek’s performance last night was that he kept getting sidetracked into arguments about process. He’d talk about the position papers he wrote, or Noem and the discharge petition. I’m not saying process isn’t important, but my impression is process is not a primary concern for most voters. When people do get upset about the political process, it’s usually as a proxy for some other, more fundamental grievance.

The other thing that stuck out at me was how Varilek seemed to keep emphasizing his intellectual qualifications for the job. I don’t think voters’ doubts about Varilek relate to concerns that he doesn’t have the grey matter to do the job. He’s clearly intelligent and knowledgeable, and conveys this whenever he talks without having to work at it. My guess is his bigger obstacle is a question of relatability. There’s a reason people like Mitt Romney and Barack Obama — neither one terribly extroverted or sociable — pepper their speeches and debates with stories about people they’ve met on the trail. Varilek would probably be a lot better served by throwing in a few of those instead of references to all the position papers he’s written.

In saying all this, I don’t mean to argue Varilek can’t debate. Frankly, I thought he won the Rapid City Journal debate pretty handily, keeping Noem on the defensive and staying smooth and in control. But Thursday night was at best a draw for him, and an underfunded underdog like Varilek can’t afford draws.

I haven’t said a lot about Noem’s performance. She was fine, great at moments. But as a front-running incumbent, Noem’s performance just doesn’t matter as much as Varilek’s. She does well as long as she doesn’t gaffe it up on stage.

After the jump, the spin from both campaigns after the debate:

Read More

Noem-Varilek debate discussion

Are you watching Kristi Noem and Matt Varilek debate tonight on SDPB? Chime in during and after the debate with your thoughts on how things are going.

Obama-Romney debate discussion

Feel free to share your comments before, during and after tonight’s presidential debate in this thread.

Biden-Ryan debate discussion

Feel free to share your comments before, during and after tonight’s vice-presidential debate in this thread.

And, after the last discussion thread, I’ll throw in a plea to keep it polite.

Miss Wednesday’s presidential debate? The Taiwanese animators who make a living making cartoon reenactments of news events have you covered. Featuring Mitt Romney in boxing gloves, Barack Obama in a propeller beanie and Jim Lehrer in a cast. (Warning: the video does contain graphic cartoon violence against a certain Sesame Street character.)

Tags: debate

An old Romney returns

In last night’s debate, Barack Obama wasn’t very good.

He wasn’t terrible. I think people on both sides are exaggerating the gap between his performance and Mitt Romney. (Both liberals and conservatives seem to agree Romney did better, though liberals are arguing this was only due to Romney’s “lies.”) Obama didn’t make any major gaffes, he was just sort of flat, professorial and only intermittently effective.

Romney’s performance, however, was far more interesting.

What stood out most of all to me was how much time Romney spent talking about a part of his past he’s barely mentioned in his career as a national politician: his four years as governor of Massachusetts.

On more than a few occasions, Romney talked about his approach to governing, his work with the Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature, even his health care plan.

You almost never heard Romney talk about this time at the convention, or during the primaries.

The latter, at least, makes sense — to be an effective Republican governor of a liberal state, you need to make a lot of compromises, which isn’t the way to endear yourself to the party base in a primary. So Romney talked a lot about his business career. (His opponents, both Republicans and Obama, also spent/spend a lot of time talking about Romney’s business career.)

This doesn’t appear to be an accident. Beyond just repeated mentions of Romney’s elected experience, he was at pains in the debate to emphasize his moderation on a series of issues. 

Talking to Buzzfeed, an anonymous Romney aide makes this explicit:

A third Romney aide, granted anonymity to bluntly discuss strategy, told BuzzFeed that Boston is no longer concerned about conservatives’ support, and wanted instead to use the debate to talk to a segment of the electorate they haven’t reached yet.

This is conventional wisdom — you solidify your base, then pivot to the middle. But a lot of people on the wings of each party argue this is a bad strategy, that firm, uncompromising positions inspire and rally voters. Avoiding those compromises, they argue, leads to massive base turnout and thus victory.

How do conservative readers feel about the new, more moderate tone Romney presented Wednesday night?

Obama-Romney debate discussion

Feel free to share your comments before, during and after tonight’s presidential debate in this thread.

Tags: debate

Debate time!

Wow. The first presidential debate is tomorrow night. Seems early, and yet late. This campaign has been going on for a year and a half, and now Romney and Obama are going to meet head-to-head for the first time at 8 p.m. CT. 

Here’s some advance reading:

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