I expect that this debate may be the first and only time that many people in Hampton Roads will have the opportunity to hear the candidates speak. It was the first time that I have heard Webb speak and only the second time that I have heard Miller. Based on what others have said about hearing Webb speak, I was expected to be blown away. Well, I wasn’t.
The debate started with the opportunity for each candidate to say why we should vote for him. Miller went first and listed some of his priorities. Webb chose to talk about his endorsements. (Remember, I did ask in an earlier post whether endorsements affected your choice?) If all it took to win was endorsements, Webb would walk away with this. But candidates need to sell themselves every hour of every day in order to win votes. Miller did a better job at this than Webb did.
The first question dealt with Iraq. Webb did a good job on this. Miller, less so. The second question related to the insurgency in Iraq. Again, the Iraq situation is Webb’s forte, but it didn’t help things that Miller was cut off in his response after only about 22 seconds.
The third question – related to a possible Democratic majority in the Senate – was when the debate really broke out. Serious charges flew fast and furious, with neither candidate answering the questions posed by the other. Miller had no real response to the question of his contributions to Republicans and Webb had no real response to his support of the values of Bush and Allen and why he called the Clinton administration corrupt. There was nothing of value in this segment, other than a bit of mudslinging, which I had hoped the candidates would not resort to. (Most of these questions were answered in a press conference afterwards, which was not a part of the debate.)
After a break, the candidates were asked about jobs. The answers from both were reasonable. The next question was about gas prices and our dependence on foreign oil. Miller gave some interesting statistics on our increasing dependence, especially as compared to Brazil, who has seen their dependence reduce dramatically. Again, he was interrupted in his answer – after about 34 seconds – and the question was posed to Webb. Webb was then allowed to speak about a minute and a half.
I mention the issue of the length of answers for just one reason: it appeared to me that the moderator was a bit biased in favor of Webb. Perhaps it is because I have moderated a number of events that I am more aware of this. I actually watched the debate a second time to make sure that I wasn’t imagining things. The body language of the moderator seemed to cut off Miller from the conversation. And he never interrupted Webb at all.
My overall assessment of the debate is that both candidates need to tone down the rhetoric and attempt to convince the voters that they have what it takes to be a fine Democratic senator from Virginia. That’s really all I want to hear about.
Disclaimer: Harris Miller will be attending the party I’m throwing next week for Southside Hampton Roads Democrats. Jim Webb was also invited but declined.
The debate between Harris Miller and Jim Webb was taped today in Norfolk and will air Sunday on Joel Rubin’s “On the Record” but is viewable now here. The AP story about the debate can be found here.
Around the ‘net, Webb supporters all think he won the debate. Check out Raising Kaine, The Richmond Democrat, and The Virginia Progressive. To hear a Republican’s take on the debate, have a look at Shaun Kenney.com. For a little less hyperbole, take a look at the Washington Post, The Daily Press or the Richmond Times Dispatch. And, appropriately, each campaign has its own take on how well they performed. The Webb press release can be found here. Miller sent his out by email.
UPDATE: The Pilot has a story on the debate as well.