Thursday, October 14, 2010

A better Senate debate last night

Last night's debate in the U.S. Senate race, the second of three planned for this campaign, was likely much more helpful to voters than the first. Sponsored by NBC-17 and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, it included Libertarian Party candidate Michael Beitler, a business professor at UNC-G whose views provided voters a third choice in addition to Republican incumbent Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall. As Rob Christensen points out in his front-page coverage of the debate, exchanges between the two major candidates were more pointed -- especially the debating points made by Marshall, the N.C. Secretary of State. She was more intently focused on making points that Burr has been a captive of special interests in Washington and that she is more of an outsider, pointedly noting this time that she was not the hand-picked darling of the Senate leadership.

I thought Burr did a better job this time, too, not just responding more aggressively but more effectively carrying his message against Marshall -- and at one point accusing her of supporting a single-payer health care system. Marshall retorted she had never supported that system and branded Burr as wrong. He surprised me at one point, though, giving a less than ringing endorsement of the public's right to know who's giving money in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Marshall has been critical of that decision and Congress's failure to insist on disclosure of who's contributing money to independent campaign committees.

Beitler chipped away at the image of both, but most pointedly accusing Burr of cronyism in accepting large contributions from Wall Street and supporting the big bank bailout, calling it a "perfect example of big business and big government." He accused Burr of voting with "fiscal liberals" and declared himself the only fiscal conservative in the race, a point that the record certainly seemed to bear out.

I liked the debate format and setting a lot better Wednesday night, too. On my TV screen the lighting was much better, and the format allowed each candidate a number of rebuttals to each other. This forum may not have been a classic debate in the sense of candidates asking questions of one another, but the ability to respond to one another's remarks if the candidates chose to use their opportunities was helpful to watchers looking not only for information on issues but also how the candidates stood up to one another and for nuances in their positions.

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