The first televised debate is in the books. WDSU-TV in New Orleans featured six candidates for governor for an hour long debate.
This debate was a complete farce. It was so bad that I really could not give grades to the candidates and that’s not their fault. The fault lies with the moderator and WDSU.
Let me sum it up for you before we get to how they did, I know where they stand on weed, Kim Davis, and Planned Parenthood; however I have no clue what they’ll do on taxes, spending, and higher education. The moderator, Scott Walker (no relation to the Wisconsin governor), insisted on asking questions about the hot button issues affecting the country. We had 10 minutes on weed, 10 minutes on Planned Parenthood, 10 minutes on guns, 10 minutes on Kim Davis, and 10 minutes on Common Core.
We had a lightning round question on higher education. 15 seconds is not enough time to give a full answer on the topic. The budget crisis was never seriously addressed outside of legalizing weed for the tax revenue. Taxes were never addressed. Healthcare and transportation weren’t even covered. Outside of Common Core (which is a settled issue after this session), K-12 education wasn’t addressed.
If we were going to discuss hot button issues, surely we could’ve discussed some close to home. We could’ve discussed the Confederate monuments or the Confederate battle flag. We could’ve discussed Mike Johnson’s religous freedom bill that was defeated in the last session. Hell, we could’ve talked crime in New Orleans.
Bob Mann called the debate “journalistic malpractice” on his blog. For once, I completely agree with him. Louisiana has real issues that need to be discussed. The voters deserve to know the differences between the candidates on issues that actually matter to Louisiana. Louisiana deserved better than the cheap sensationalism that was offered last night.
Now that we got that out of the way, here’s how I think the candidates did; in alphabetical order.
Scott Angelle: Angelle had the line of the night when he dinged David Vitter on prostitution. “He failed in fornication, he failed in taxation, and now he failed in education” was a very good line. He had another good line with “Senator Pinocchio.” He also started positioning himself as the conservative alternative to David Vitter who can actually work with people. Angelle was also funny at times and personable. Although he seemed to disappear at times, he came back forcefully.
Angelle’s only mistake and it was minor given the stupidity of the debate was he got a point wrong about the Kim Davis case. He said that Davis was not blocking her office from issuing gay marriage licenses, however that wasn’t true. She was. Another long-term problem for Angelle is if he gets too caught up in the fight with Vitter. Voters may very well say “screw both of you, I’m going for Dardenne” especially when Dardenne has made a career of being the adult in the room.
Jay Dardenne: Did well in answering Vitter’s attacks on his record. He flipped Vitter’s attack on his travel expenses by pointing out his successes in tourism. Notably, he called Vitter a “liar.” He also popped John Bel Edwards at the end after he was compared to Jindal by pointing out Jindal opposed him when he ran for Lt. Governor. Dardenne also came off as knowledgable about the issues and competent. I actually thought he helped himself the most on the night. He also made the case for why he should be considered for governor. He, probably more than the other candidates, could’ve benefited more if the debate was actually about Louisiana issues.
However, the only slip-up for Dardenne is that he came off as more moderate than he probably wanted to. When Vitter held up the paper from Louisiana Right to Life showing his six non pro-life votes, that was damning. But in fairness, he wasn’t getting that vote anyway. Although Dardenne made a good explanation for those votes (mostly stem cell research related), it may have given some conservatives pause and may lead them to Angelle. He also didn’t do enough damage to Edwards to pull off Democrat and independent votes. He also was forgettable at times but that was likely due to the format.
Cary Denton: Denton cleared the low bar I set for him. I don’t think he should’ve gotten an invite to the debate, but he made the most of it. He came off as a serious candidate, although we know he’s not. He was good enough, but I’m not sure if he picked up anything tonight.
John Bel Edwards: The Democrat front-runner acted like a front-runner. He didn’t make any major mistakes on the night, which has to be considered a success. He managed to come off as an old style Louisiana conservative Democrat. However, he benefited from the debate format so he didn’t really have to go into detail about his plan. He was the only one that said Kim Davis should’ve issued the licenses, however even he said that Davis could’ve left that to her office.
Edwards’s only mistake was at the closing statement when he tried to sell himself as the only guy who was anti-Jindal. That opened up the door for Dardenne to pop him. Despite that, he will be a very tough general election opponent to any Republican who makes the runoff.
Jeremy Odem: Absolutely awful. He reminded everyone why he did not deserve an invite to the debate. He was unable to communicate the most basic thoughts clearly.
David Vitter: This format, as bad as it was, was made for Vitter. He could’ve taken this opportunity to be Mr. Conservative and Mr. Nice Guy. However, he is the one candidate coming out weaker than coming in.
Let’s start with Vitter’s positives. While discussing weed, he tried to bring the discussion on criminal justice reform. However, that made too much sense in this debate. That is is on the moderator, not the candidate. I thought how he turned around a discussion on guns into how enjoys alligator hunting with his daughter and hunting with his son was very good. It helped humanize him. He was also a forceful presence on the debate stage.
What good he did with the hunting stories was undone by his constant attacks on his opponents. He did not act like a frontrunner last night. He acted like he was barely making the runoff. Dardenne’s line about him being “Desperate Dave” resonated. Worse than that, all of his attacks fell flat and were easily countered by his opponents. Even an attack on Edwards tying him to Obama fell flat and didn’t resonate. The current Vitter strategy of scorched Earth against his opponents is not working. He needs to start making a positive appeal for votes, which he can do more than anyone in this field, or he may not even make the runoff.
The only upside of this debate for Louisiana is that Scott Walker will not moderate another one. That is a huge win for Louisiana’s voters. Hopefully in the next televised debate, real issues will be discussed.