By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Quick thoughts on the Senate debate

Three quick thoughts on last night’s Senate debate:

• It was by far the best and most energetic performance I’ve seen from the major-party candidates, Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. They really had a chance to mix it up, and though we learned nothing new, it was interesting nevertheless. Apparently Brown has decided he’ll live or die with his sneering references to “constitutional rights.”

• Joe Kennedy struck me as fringier than he has in previous appearances — especially the WBZ debate, where he was quite good. This time, he came off as Ron Paul with an even worse haircut.

• Two cheers for moderator David Gergen, who did an excellent job except for a longish segment in which he kept insisting that the candidates support cuts in middle-class benefits. What does the Gergen agenda have to do with the Senate race? Coakley finally put him in his place by reminding everyone of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Wall Street bailouts.

John Carroll’s got a nice take on the debate. And notes that “Massachusetts” is misspelled in a new Coakley ad attacking Brown (via David Bernstein).

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The Senate race and the media


  1. Gergen did a disservice to voters during the individual questions to the candidates segment.

    He asked Brown about abortion (already asked by Coakley to Brown) and global warming. Then he tossed Coakley softballs about three way debates and campaign strategy. Forget for the moment that Coakley looked idiotic suggesting that Kennedy added a lot the debates, surely there were some policy questions Gergen should have asked Coakley about instead.

  2. This has been a short but grim campaign. Last night’s debate, while summing up the issues, didn’t make me like any of the candidates any more. See posting on my new blog,

  3. Harrybosch

    Brown is running for Torquemada-in-Chief and Coakley for Class President.

    Was this truly the best we could do?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Harrybosch: Looking at the state of political talent in Massachusetts these days, I would say yes. Unless Steve Lynch versus Christy Mihos is your idea of a good time.

  4. [Dan, I also posted these exact words over at U-Hub, as you may know, so I hope you’ll forgive the copying to your excellent page. It says exactly what I believe, though, so I see no need to change the wording.]

    IMHO, the moderation was incompetent. Gergen gave Coakley and Brown complete control, seemingly interjecting himself into it only when he wished to question what Brown said (and, while those questions were usually spot on, it was not his job to question one candidate’s positions more than the other two.) He even went so far as to change the rules midstream and deny Kennedy the opportunity to handle a question from an opponent, turning Kennedy’s role in that segment into second questioner of Coakley rather than candidate himself.

    Don’t get me started on the idiocy of questioning ANY candidate concerning how he or she would vote if said candidate had to choose between his/her opponents. Unless you’re going to ask that idiotic question of ALL THREE candidates, it is patently unfair and biased moderation. It casts the candidate you do ask the question of as inconsequential and undeserving of a substantive query.

    Kennedy showed amazing patience with the entire patronizing process. He could have complained mightily and righteously concerning how little time and consideration he was given. Since he is easily the candidate whose views are least known, it would have behooved Mr. Gergen to not give him (and the viewers) such short shrift.

  5. Harrybosch

    “Unless Steve Lynch versus Christy Mihos is your idea of a good time.”

    Guess I’ll just take solace in comparing our own situation to that of New York.

    Because, whatever I might think of them, at least these two are, you know, from Massachusetts.

    But it looks like The Empire State is about to promote yet another carpetbagger’s candidacy to the Senate.

  6. Treg

    Does anyone think Capuano wouldn’t be way out in front of Brown at this point?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Treg: Not sure what you’re asking. If it’s, Don’t you think Capuano would be doing better than Coakley?, I would say no. He’d be doing worse.

  7. O-FISH-L

    @Dan Kennedy: “…and though we learned nothing new, it was interesting nevertheless”

    We learned nothing new? I learned from Coakley that the Taliban is no longer in Afghanistan. I don’t even think the C.I.A. knew of that development, but Martha knows.

    Do you really think this was her best performance? I’d hate to see her on an off night. Mercy!

  8. Treg

    Guess we’ll just agree to disagree there!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Treg: Coakley crushed Capuano in the primary. And he ran to Coakley’s left, so it’s not like he’d have greater ideological appeal to conservative Democrats and independents than Coakley would. Finally, from my perspective, his so-called passion was his single most negative characteristic. Ted Kennedy was passionate. Capuano acts like he’ll punch you in the face if you disagree with him.

  9. Treg

    Well, those are all fair points. But I think Coakley crushed Capuano in the primary because it was such a weirdly little boutiquey election that almost no one voted in, and she had the edge on statewide name recognition. In the general election, for which turnout will presumably be somewhat broader, I think Capuano would be doing a better job of distinguishing himself from and attacking Brown.

    And I think you’re getting it backwards on the ideology thing. I think it’s a mistake for Coakley to pretend she isn’t every bit the liberal. Massachusetts is a liberal state, or so I’ve been told. People are bored with Coakley. We want definition, not wishy-washy pandering to the middle.

    As you point out in your excellent Guardian piece, it’s very unlikely, but if enough people are so bored they doze off and forget to go vote, Brown could win.

  10. Ben

    This was probably as good as it gets for Brown. Kennedy seemed to have a better delivery in the WBZ debate. He was also pushing his anti-war message more this time, maybe hoping to scavenge some last minute progressive votes.

    Strangely enough, Scott Brown’s style has always reminded me of Ron Paul [ok, follow me now]. He just seems to be all wound up in such a way that talking points come spilling out willy-nilly in all directions. He’s much less linear than his opponents. That, combined with the prefab GOP lines just makes him tiring to listen to. Having said that, he does drive a truck with 200,000 miles on it. And some people do find Coakley to be very funny…

  11. Patrick

    Dan, you commenting on someone’s haircut? That’s rich. Look in the mirror.
    As for Brown, he kicked a little lass in that debate and given that Coakley has gone completely negative, she must not believe the Globe poll or she’d be ignoring him like Gergen ignored Kennedy at the debate.

  12. Newshound

    Fish – if you think Martha is full of hullabaloo then you and I agree.

    And, yes, I, too think this is her best performance. As you say: “Mercy.”

    Of course this is conjecture but if the same Martha with the same views were running as a Republican and the same Scott with the same views were running as a Democrat the margin of victory by the Democrats in this election would be overwhelming. Mrs. Coakley is so shallow and so full of twaddle.

  13. mike_b1

    There’s a lot of shrillness and complaints coming from the Brown supporters, none of whom had ever heard of the shirtless wonder before last November.

    Just saying…

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