Friday, September 03, 2010

Boxer and Fiorina Debate in Blue Red State California

Jan Brewer's cringe inducing debate performance received more media attention, but there was another debate last week of significantly greater import. Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer met for their first (and potentially only) debate of the election season. It is one of the "dirty dozen" contests that will determine whether the GOP retakes the majority in the Senate.

Democrats enjoy a huge advantage in statewide California elections. In 2008, 44% registered Democratic, 31% registered Republican and 20% Independent (Decline to State). Despite the uneven playing field, Fiorina and Boxer were polling at a dead heat going into the debate. Combine that with Republican Meg Whitman's lead over Democrat Jerry Brown, and some usually careful conservative bloggers are moved to hyperbole - Ed Morrissey:
"Welcome to California, the Red State... If both Boxer and Brown lose, what does that say about the direction of California — and what does it mean for Barack Obama? California’s one of the few states where his approval numbers remain mildly positive. If that’s true and Democrats still lose statewide races in this cycle, it makes Obama an irrelevance, and perhaps means that the state with the largest number of electoral votes may be in play two years from now."
Yeah... I think Ed is getting a little ahead of himself. Let's dial back a bit and just focus on this critical California Senate contest and debate. A sample clip:

I generally have very low expectations for political debates. Perhaps that is why I was pleasantly surprised, even impressed by the Boxer/Fiorina face-off. My take:

Both candidates acquitted themselves well and were very well prepared. It was a good debate. Boxer and Fiorina clearly had different objectives in this debate, and I think they both accomplished what they set out to do. With her big registration advantage, Boxer just needed to play to her base. California voters already know Boxer and her shtick. She just needed to be the crusading liberal senator her base expects and not make mistakes. If she can get the Democrats off their collective asses and voting in force, she should win this going away. But this year, with 60 days to go, with Democrats feeling lethargic and uninspired, that appears to be a mighty big "if".

Fiorina had more at stake in this debate, as I suspect this was the first time that many California voters started to pay attention to this election. This was Fiorina's chance to make a first impression on voters who do not know her well. She needed to look senatorial, competent, and in command of the issues facing the state. Debates are as much about TV, presence and image as they are about issues. From that perspective, she knocked it out of the park. She came across as smart, articulate and tough with a detailed understanding of the issues - basically a strong business woman. Fiorina could have easily blown her chances with a stumble in this debate, but instead she inspired confidence.

That said, there was one major issue that has emerged in this contest that I did not feel qualified to judge. So I asked my wife - Who had the better hair? She did not hesitate - Carly had the better "do". That seals it. I'm calling this round for Carly. Michael Rosen agrees...
"... in one area in particular these two strands — big government liberalism and legislative fecklessness — weave together: the cap-and-trade regime, which Fiorina calls the “most expensive regulatory act in U.S. history,” which will burden consumers and kill yet more jobs, but to which Boxer has adhered religiously. At the debate, Fiorina blasted the senator for her inability to shepherd the ill-considered legislation to passage and for having it “taken away from her and given to John Kerry.” This, in the end, is Boxer’s legacy: failed leadership and misguided policies amidst troubling times. Thus, in a toxic environment where irate voters find themselves booting incumbents even during primaries, it’s not much of a stretch to predict that Boxer’s political life will never be the same come November."
...and Garry South disagrees. Most post-mortems called it close or a draw. The Survey USA Poll that Morrissey linked has Fiorina up by 2 points - within the margin of error. It was conducted the day before and day of the debate, so we don't get a clean read of the debate with that poll. I'm guessing Fiorina was good enough for a bump in the polls that will give her a lead outside the margin of error. We'll update this post when we get a definitive read - probably early next week.

In other election news, the blogosphere was abuzz with Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Prognostication:
"In the Senate, we now believe the GOP will do a bit better than our long-time prediction of +7 seats. Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8 (or maybe +9, at which point it will be interesting to see how senators such as Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and others react). GOP leaders themselves did not believe such a result was truly possible just a few months ago. If the Republican wave on November 2 is as large as some polls are suggesting it may be, then the surprise on election night could be a full GOP takeover. Since World War II, the House of Representatives has flipped parties on six occasions (1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006). Every time, the Senate flipped too, even when it had not been predicted to do so. These few examples do not create an iron law of politics, but they do suggest an electoral tendency."
Strange, his prediction seems vaguely familiar.

Let's net this out - for any fellow Californians who understand and believe in the moderating influence and simply better governance that results from divided government in Washington D.C. - this is the contest that is likely to be the difference. It is time to step up.

x=posted at Donklephant
Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

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