Tonight, they boxed to a draw.
It wasn’t a bloody brawl and there were no knockout punches delivered by either of the two leading candidates in the race for the U.S. Senate.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln held her ground, touting her support for health care, her push for creating economic stability, and her power as Senate Agriculture chair.
Lt. Gov. Bill Halter claimed success for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, touted his years of service in the Clinton Administration, and said he’d be a fresh voice in Washington for Arkansas.
Little Rock businessman D.C. Morrison provided occasional comic relief and curiosity.
Lincoln and Halter exchanged barbs throughout the debate, especially when it came to some of the negative charges lobbed by both campaigns and special interest groups that are flooding the airwaves with attack ads.
Halter, who called for “an improved tone” to the campaign, asked Lincoln to stop references to him as “Dollar Bill.” His campaign had created a web site that nicknamed Lincoln “Bailout Blanche.” At the debate, Halter said he’d ordered the web site to be brought down.
Lincoln also said she was “disappointed by the negative tone” of the campaign, indicating that interest group ads outspending her campaign were largely responsible.
Both Halter and Lincoln scored points on each other, but neither landed a major or decisive blow. Both were fairly effective in countering accusations.
Morrison, the third candidate in the Democratic primary, stumbled through portions of the debate showcasing his lack of polish in the political arena.
He may have had the best line of the night, however, when he was asked about the tenor of TV ads. Morrison said, “I like the ads.”
“I always thought talk was cheap until I found out how much Channel 7 charged for a 30-second commercial,” he said as the UALR audience roared.
Wherever you think the race is in terms of support for any candidate, tonight did very little to move that needle. There weren’t really any breakout moments or home runs scored by any candidate.
Lincoln was at times on the offensive – more so than I thought she would be. When she played defense, she was effective. Her delivery had spunk and punch at times. Lincoln did not run from her Washington, D.C. experience – which voters will decide is either a liability or an asset. She cited instances of using her tenure to the advantage of Arkansas and Democratic policies.
Halter didn’t hurt his standing in any way tonight. He proved that he is knowledgeable on major federal issues. He too emphasized his D.C. experience from the Clinton administration when he worked in the budget office and the Social Security Administration. Halter scored points at times by noting Lincoln’s positions on issues like card check and climate change and his accusation of how those positions have changed.
D.C. Morrison laid out his conservative causes, which will have limited appeal in the Democratic primary. He stumbled through several questions, and more than once sounded like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in his response to questions. However, he established his pro-life, anti-tax, smaller government agenda. And he was good for several laughs, even when he awkwardly advanced the notion of term limits for incumbents so they wouldn’t die in office.
I’d have to say on style points, Lincoln seemed most comfortable in her delivery and on stage. Although she is prone to ramble in interviews, the tight timing of the debate kept her out of trouble on this front.
Halter is well-educated and articulate. At times, he looked down at his notes at the end of a response rather than finishing directly into the camera with his appeal.
D.C. Morrison lacks polish, but it won’t hurt his connection with the common Arkansan.
The Democratic candidates will meet again on Saturday at the AP managing editors convention. Will it be a repeat performance? Or will we see new tactics deployed in an effort to gain votes?
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