Maybe the question is: Was there a winner? Well, the format was a winner. The questions from viewers, from members of the audience, and from one panelist to another, made for a lively if not necessarily enlightening debate. Perry did a good job of repeating his major themes. He must have said peope want to move to Texas a dozen times. He talked about his tax cuts, budget cuts, tort reform–we all know the drill by now–and didn’t talk much about Washington, which was smart. But televised debates are as much about images as about words, and I thought he looked terrible, even creepy at times. He really looked uncomfortable. Sometimes he wore a frozen grin, sometimes it was a smirk; whatever it was, it transmitted, “I don’t want to be here.” He was constantly on the defensive. When he said how well Texas is doing (in job creation) Medina shot back, You’re using 07 figures. Perry is not very good when he is on the defensive. He is very good when he is on the attack. On the whole, he seemed to be playing to run out the clock, to avoid making any gaffe, and just to get out of town as the frontrunner. But for his demeanor, he would have been the clear winner. If viewers reacted to him the way I did, he could lose some ground. Hutchison had one terrible moment. It came when David Montgomery asked about her support for Roe v. Wade. She sidestepped the issue. Other panelists tried to get her to give a straight answer. She handled it so badly that the audience laughed. That is never good. Okay, so she lost the hardcore anti-abortion vote. She had already lost it. She would have been much better to say, “I support the decision in Roe v. Wade but I also support many restrictions on abortion, such as third-trimester abortions.” Again, I think her demeanor was more costly than her words. If she lost votes, it wasn’t because she is for Roe. It’s because she wasn’t straight with the public. Otherwise, she did a good job. She had done her homework. She and Perry had a tiff over the bailout. Perry opened the door with a question directed to her, and she answered (1) that the President of the United States had asked her and John Cornyn to vote for the bailout, and (2) that Perry had written a letter to Congress supporting it in concert with the Democratic governor of West Virginia (both were heads of their parties’ governor associations at the time). Perry said something snarky, a line he has used before, that “we thought you understood that you shouldn’t spend all the money,” and KBH was ready for that one. “That’s not what you said,” she answered, and it wasn’t what they said. She won that exchange. Again, Perry’s demeanor in this back-and-forth was poor. If it had not been for the abortion question, I would have said that Hutchison won the debate, but that was a disaster for Hutchison. She did bring up every possible problem Perry might run into–eminent domain, TxDOT, the HPV mandate. She scored some points but there was no knockdown. I was hoping for more from Debra Medina, but I don’t think she made a case for herself as a major candidate for governor. Medina marginalized herself by concentrating on fringe issues, such as open carry (guns), legalization of drugs, and other libertarian positions. She urged that Texas replace property taxes with sales taxes, and when a panelist asked about regressivity, she didn’t answer the question but rather gave a stock answer about increasing $3 billion in personal income and creating more jobs. It seemed evident that she and Perry are fighting over the same constituency on the right. The campaign will now move to the airwaves. Perry so far has had a huge advantage. His TV is so much better than Hutchison’s, his messages so much clearer. Thirty-three days to go before the start of early voting.
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