This time, the debate from Connecticut wasn't televised live on national TV. People didn't build their schedules around it, or go to a debate-watching party. In fact, the debate between John DeStefano and Dan Malloy was in many ways the antithesis of the Lamont-Lieberman debate of two weeks ago: instead of two bitter rivals who represent radically opposed, ideologically divided factions in the Democratic Party, these two men found more to agree on than disagree, and spent more time attacking the governor than one another.
It was sort of refreshing. It was also sort of dull. Here are the high points:
Both Malloy and DeStefano seemed to stumble out of the gate. Hard to blame them--neither man has really seen much media attention over the past two years. DeStefano seemed nervous, and played with his glasses (which he later removed) and shuffled his notes. Malloy tripped over his tongue a few times, and seemed to lose track of his point. Both men managed to recover, although to differing degrees.
DeStefano at his best seemed like an educated, intelligent man who understood the reasons why government did what it did, and how to make it better. At his worst, he seemed like an aging professor lecturing to a confused audience. He had a tendency to wander off from the question as he tried to educate his audience, and he seemed to ramble a bit. He had to be interrupted several times as he ran over his time. Malloy at his best seemed like a can-do, passionate and driven man, while at his worst he edged over into melodrama. He actually said in response to a DeStefano attack: "There you go again." Sheesh. Malloy also strayed, although he seemed somewhat more coherant.
On the issues, it was difficult to draw distinctions between the two. Both men share the same basic platform--they just have different ways to accomplish what they want and have varying levels of commitment to it. The debate seemed to come down in large part to which of the two men was more genuinely in favor of that platform, and which truly had the better record, and this is where Dan Malloy scored the only two clear hits of the night.
First, with the help of the crusty and entertaining Mark Davis, he dredged up an old story about campaign finance reform, in which Malloy and Susan Bysiewicz both pledged to return money from contractors, etc., if CFR was implemented for 2006. DeStefano didn't, claming it was unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game (DeStefano then held a sizable fundraising advantage). The charge was made that DeStefano wasn't really for it if it would hurt his campaign. Malloy delivered a stinging lecture to DeStefano, which DeStefano was able to effectively parry by pointing out Malloy's melodramatic delivery, but the point remained.
Second, near the end of the debate, Malloy commented on the state of affairs in New Haven's education system, and said that "I want to be a governor who will help you turn that around." Laughter.
Mark Davis of WTNH stole the show by being grumpy, demanding and unwilling to let the candidates weasel out of responding to his (and others') questions. He cut through some of the nonsense like a knife. I kept expecting him to leap out of his seat and start yelling at them. I hope he gets to be a panelist at more of these: he was a welcome relief!
As for who won? On issues, both candidates know their stuff. This was a highly wonkish debate. But Malloy was slightly better at communicating his message, and he seemed sharper than DeStefano, and so came out of the debate in slightly better shape. But his win, if that's what it was, wasn't all that convincing, and I don't think this debate is going to erase much of the confusion voters have about these two candidates.