Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Burr-Marshall debate would have been livelier with Beitler

Last night's Senate debate between incumbent Republican Sen.. Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall explored some key differences between the two veteran politicians. Rob Christensen's story from UNC-TV studios where it was broadcast has a good rundown on those differences. http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/10/12/735558/they-dont-see-eye-to-eye.html

But I was struck more by appearances, and what might have been. Burr, the former Fifth District Congressman from Winston-Salem, seemed to be in the position of sitting back and letting the debate come to him. He landed fewer jabs at Marshall than she swung at him, and Burr's trademark smile -- detractors call it a smirk, admirers think of it as a boyish beam -- shone throughout the one-hour debate. I learned six years ago when he first won the Senate seat that Burr has an appeal to voters that may be hard for observers to immediately grasp. He campaigns his own way and makes a connection with individuals with the same kind of personal appeal that made him an outstanding microwave oven salesman before he went full-time into politics. It's easy to underestimate Burr, as many political opponents have discovered on election day.

Marshall, a veteran state legislator who became the first woman to win a statewide executive branch office when she became Secretary of State, wore a bright red suit that on my TV screen (cable, not high def) seemed to bloom, almost overpowering her presence. I checked three channels and the results were similar, and I wondered if that sharp contrast was off-putting to other viewers.

Marshall held her ground pretty well, but for someone who the polls show to be facing a significant gap, I thought she missed a chance to swing hard and swing aggressively at Burr. She did land some body blows, but I also thought, again, that she was missing an opportunity to remind viewers in a more direct way that she was not the hand-picked candidate of the Washington insiders with whom so many voters nationally are reported to be thoroughly disenchanted. She did observe in an understated way that she was not the anointed candidate of the Senate leadership, but I thought her advisers should have pushed her to make the point in a more forceful and emphatic way. Perhaps they did. I take it that she does not see any point in antagonizing Senate leaders if she does win, but I believe she has to find a way to strike a chord with voters who aren't enthusiastic about Burr. His numbers haven't been great all year, and while he has a big lead in the horserace, Marshall ought to pursue a way to focus on that.

The debate was moderated by Carl Kasell, a Goldsboro native, UNC Chapel Hill graduate and star of National Public Radio. But I thought the debate would have been livelier had it included Michael Beitler, the Libertarian Party candidate and one-time bodybuilder who is a professor of business at UNC-Greensboro. Beitler has a sharper sense of humor than either Burr or Marshall and would have lightened up the debate with his pithy comments. As the Observer's Jim Morrill noted the other day, Beitler says Burr panders to the "Glennbeckistani crowd" and accuses Marshall of sometimes "talking but saying nothing." But Beitler is way down in the polls, and the sponsors set a minimum of 10 percent standing in the polls. The N.C. Broadcasters Association Foundation sponsored the debate; there will be two more.

Update: Beitler will appear on Wednesday night's 8 p.m. debate sponsored by WNCN-TV and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.


Anonymous said...

As a lifelong Democrat all I can say is thank God Burr is leading in the polls.

Anonymous said...

It's criminal that these debate organizers set up criteria that are specifically designed to exclude certain candidates. Beitler actually DID poll 10% in a Public Policy poll in July.

Media like the Observer perpetuate the Republocrat duopoly by using similar criteria: Rob Christensen explicitly wrote to me that he excluded Beitler from a previous article because "he hasn't raised enough money." Well the Democrat running against Patrick McHenry hasn't raised any money either yet the Observer profiled HIM.

I guess the Observer just doesn't want to upset the banks who own this city, state and nation's government via the Demopublicans.