MPR Senate Debate Reaction

The three Minnesota senate candidates met for their last debate tonight at the Fitzgerald theatre. You can find audio and a write up of the debate here.

(MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)

(MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)

Gary Eichten moderated. He’s the host of MPR’s Midday program. The debate was held in front of a live audience but not on TV. Which I think probably worked to Franken’s advantage. He’s familiar with the radio format, and many things which can come across as abrasive about Franken on TV didn’t on the radio.

Franken generally spoke in short sentences and took nice long rhetorical pauses. I think that from the performance/theatrical perspective, he won the debate.

I also think that Franken won on the issues. He hit Norm Coleman hard on lobbying and corruption. Franken got a big assist from the way the Nasser Kazeminy issue came up. Right out of the gate, Coleman was on the defensive (“Attacking my wife is crossing the line.” Also on that point – Coleman found himself seriously in the weeds when he charged that Franken writing “pornography” crossed a similar “line” to someone attacking Coleman for corruption.) Franken framed the issue as being a Coleman problem, not having anything to do with him.

Franken followed up with his “question” which he used to ask Coleman about the “revolving door” problem. How long should members of congress have to wait before joining a lobbying firm? Coleman dithered, saying basically, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

(I agree that there are worse things than ex-congressmen getting payouts for votes they made while still serving. Health Care, Iraq, the Economy. Nonetheless, it’s a real problem, one that serious people should be working on.)

The headline from this debate will be something like “Franken hits Coleman hard on corruption.” Because that was the major punch landed, Coleman tried to go after Franken on technicalia – what bills Al would have voted for or against.

This trick is pretty silly. There are a million reasons to not vote for a given bill, and I think that people know that they are sometimes not getting the whole story when political opponents charge one other with supporting or not supporting this or that.

Franken being “excited” at the prospect of Green jobs was his high point, in terms of making a positive argument for himself. He was OK on healthcare. I was surprised to hear that all three candidates consider healthcare a “right”.

A word on the closing arguments. Here’s what I remember, and let’s pretend that that’s some kind of barometer of how well the candidates punched through.

Al Franken said, “let’s hold congress accountable.”

Norm Coleman referenced someone calling him a lying sack of shit.

Dean Barkley said that people come up to him all the time and say, I wish I could vote for you but I can’t.

If that’s what sums it up, I think Barkley supporters break something like 20 – 10 – 70, F – C – B. And that could give Franken the seat. My guess is, if any ticket splitters for Obama heard this tonight, or read the coverage, I think Franken did himself some good. Although he could have cozied up to Obama more than he did.

And when you do a debate reaction, you always gotta grade the moderator. I think that Gary had a rough night. He was unable to restrain the crowd at all. There were serious Coleman and Franken supporters at the Fitz and they made their feelings and reactions known. Gary snapped “I don’t want to be a traffic cop.” He asked some good tough questions, like kicking off the debate with the Nasser Kazeminy flap. He was chided by Barkley about not asking him questions, so Gary obliged and asked him some more.

I think that was the right thing to do, but I’m not sure that Gary was in charge for the whole event. He was sort of buffeted between the candidates, the audience at the Fitz, the unseen audience on the radio, and his own civic desire to get to the meat of the issues.

But this was a really intense debate. Franken and Coleman have real dislike for each other, and its more personal than it is professional. Coleman called Franken “unMinnesotan” which isn’t quite like calling someone “unAmerican” but it’s in the ball park.

Franken stopped short of calling Coleman corrupt, but he sure thinks he is.

In any case, it’s over soon. I think Barkley’s support deflates, and in a way that will benefit Franken more than Coleman. Maybe this debate even furthered that outcome.

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