April 10, 2006

The Debate

If you heard the front-runner in a primary debate espousing the following views in a Blue State:

- Against a living wage
- Against universal health care
-Against Roe V. Wade as settled law
- Against Feingold's call for censure of President Bush
- For keeping the troops in Iraq for another two years
you'd probably assume that the candidate was Republican...but you'd be wrong.

The debate was among Democratic candidates for US Senate in Pennsylvania and the candidate who unquestionably received the loudest and longest applause was the man who most forcibly argued the opposite of the above opinions. A candidate who is still little known among voters in Pennsylvania.

The front-runner met with what can best be described as a tepid response and outright gasps of shock and disappointment on his response to the Feingold Censure question.

And now you know why the Democratic Party is in deep doo-doo in PA.

The debate was held this past Saturday in the sleepy college town of Slippery Rock (a little over an hour's drive from Pittsburgh) in a Republican controlled county. The candidates were Bob Casey, Jr. (the front-runner), and his challengers Chuck Pennacchio (the guy who got the big applause), and Alan Sandals (a guy who tried to position himself the middle of Bob and Chuck).

A bit of background:

1. Yes, I'm an unapologetic supporter of Pennacchio, but The Trib agrees with my assessment of the response to the candidates, "Pennacchio did the most to rouse the audience, often garnering hefty applause when he spoke." (And, yes, I know that the Dickie Cougar Mellon-Scaife owned Trib has their own reasons for knocking Casey, but they're telling the truth in this instance.)

2. Casey's front-runner status has a lot to do with the fact that he was handpicked by Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and others to be the "Chosen One" in this race very early on when Bush (and Santorum) still reined supreme in the polls and for some Frankenstein experiment at demonstrating that the Democratic Party could be "moral" enough to install an anti-choice candidate as the Party's Boy. Casey has since been endorsed by the State Committee.

3. And, yes, the Casey name is well known in PA (Bob's dad was a governor of the state) and this is a state who is more than comfortable pulling the lever for any Casey or Flaherty that comes down the pike, but Junior's big win so far in PA was for State Treasurer in an easy race. Casey lost by about 10 points to Ed Rendell after an initial almost 20 point lead (name factor) in a hotly contested, bitter primary race.
But back to the debate...

eRobin at FACT-ESQUE live-blogged it and you can see her abbreviated version of the debate here. However, I was at the debate and I can fill you in on what couldn't be seen or heard in any telecast or podcast (coming soon).

First, the Party did what parties are supposed to do: they covered the area outside the auditorium with Casey signs, held a rally and tried to pack the venue with their people. The crowd was primarily composed of Casey supporters and the undecided. There was a hardy little band of Chuck supporters. Other than a woman who I believe is Sandals campaign manager, I didn't see anyone who could be identified as a supporter of his campaign. It should be also be noted that the majority of the crowd were not college students despite the debate being held at a college.

While no one was allowed to display any campaign buttons or literature inside the auditorium, there was plenty of lobbying in the lobby and outside.

Prior to the debate, those in Chuck Gear were looked at with something like barely concealed hostility (by the Party Apparatchiks) or bemusement by the undecided. One could amuse oneself by checking out the Young Dems and playing a game of picking out which ones seemed to have the most star quality (translate that as face time with the Big Party Boys). I hate to say it, but they most resembled the little troop of College Republicans who stood a respectable distance from the festivities and waived Santorum signs at the few passing cars.

The moderator consistently mispronounced Chuck's last name: pronouncing the "cch" as "sh" instead of a hard "ck" sound. Casey repeated the error. Casey was seated between Sandals and Pennacchio and he towered over the two challengers. He also dressed in standard Democratic candidate weekend event attire: blue blazer, chambray shirt and chinos -- as if to say that the debate was of little consequence -- the others were in suits and ties. Casey also spent far more time giving a look of thoughtful attention to Sandals (a candidate with some $$$, one good ad, but seemingly little grassroots support) than to Pennacchio when either spoke.

It's too bad that Casey didn't spend more time on practicing actually speaking himself.

I'm sorry, but the guy is B-O-R-I-N-G. I always heard that he was, but this was my first chance to really see it firsthand. At times he sort of wondered off in his thoughts at the end of an answer until I could no longer follow what he was trying to say. He also speaks in a monotone (OK -- confession -- we were laughing in the car on the way home by repeating his words "I am outraged" in the same dull robotic monotone that he said them. Guess you had to be there).

But actually those were his good points because it would have been better for his campaign if the audience had been able to completely ignore what he had to say because they did not like what he had to say. Casey had to spend the majority of his time comparing himself to Santorum because that's the only way he could even score the tiniest of points.

This was a crowd which had been set up to like him and the majority spent their time applauding the Other Guy (Chuck).

Casey's answers on question after question made the crowd profoundly uncomfortable. (Believe me, it was all I could do to restrain myself from not coughing "Lieberman" after some of his answers.)

The crowd came out of the debate and grabbed up the Pennacchio buttons and literature on his display table. Better still, there were people signing up to volunteer.

Here are some of the post-debate comments that I heard:

Older man while still in the auditorium: "That little guy sure was full of piss and vinegar."

Young woman who had shook her head no when Chuck and Alan defended Roe V. Wade in the hall: "I'm pro life but it's all about a living wage. He (Chuck) rocks!"

Two guys in their 20s: "How come I never heard of this guy (Chuck) before? He was great!"

Two guys in their 30s: (same as above)
Hence, the problem facing the Democratic Party:
They're pushing a candidate who is not just uninspiring, he actively alienates Democratic voters -- even Democratic voters in a CONSERVATIVE town.
This does not bode well for their candidate and I'm sure they (and the candidate to some extent) know this.

Why else have the only two debates in Red Counties and none in the two largest cities in the state (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh)?

Rick Santorum may be a Far Right Kook, but he's our Far Right Kook and he's a formidable candidate.

And, as I've always predicted, Casey's lead has been slowly falling.

A vote for Casey in the primary gives moderate Republicans no reason to switch in November (especially the pro choice women). The push for Casey has already angered/depressed the Left.

So if you want to send Ricky packing in November, here's what you need to do:

1. Throw some bucks Chuck's way. He needs them now.

2. Sign up to volunteer for Chuck.

3. Tell everyone you know about Chuck.
Give the voters a chance to have a candidate who's actually *with* them on the issues.

Give the voters a chance to vote for the guy who can inspire them.

Give the voters a chance to vote for a man who will "do the right thing."

The alternative isn't just heartbreaking -- it's a recipe for disaster.


Ol' Froth said...

Great post Maria! Changing minds one at a time!

I missed the debate (Dad's 70th B-day party) but it sounds like Chuck rocked the house!

Maria said...

Thanks! I crossposted this at KOS.

Please recommend it there

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post.