Incumbent Republican Congresswoman Thelma Drake and Democratic challenger Glenn Nye squared off in the first public debate of the season Friday afternoon. The format allowed each candidate four minutes to answer the question and a one-minnute rebuttal, with a two-minute closing statement. Whoever went first, determined by the winner of a coin toss, always answered first but gave the second closing statement. (I hate it when the same person answers each question first. I much prefer them to alternate.) Rep. Drake won the coin toss (which, incidentally, was performed by Nye and not the moderator – another strange thing) and elected to answer first.
I’m not going to rehash the five questions asked of the candidates. You can read those in The Virginian-Pilot. For the most part, there were small differences in the opinions of the candidates on the issues. It appeared that part of the game plan for Drake was to try to separate herself from President Bush. On a couple of occasions, she mentioned that she had voted against legislation that the president supported. Other than that, there was nothing earth-shattering in her remarks. She remains committed to victory in Iraq, no amnesty for illegal immigrants, and supports the flat tax.
For many of those in attendance, this was the first opportunity to hear Nye speak. His goal, therefore, appeared to contain a couple of things. First, he wanted to introduce himself, and the opening question on Iraq certainly gave him that opportunity. Second, he wanted to establish that he is of the group of leadership that offers pragmatic, bipartisan solutions to the issues. He sprinkled this throughout his answers to the questions. Given the opportunity, he also wanted to try to tie Drake to Bush. He managed to get in a couple of times that Drake votes 96% of the time with the president.
For the most part, this “debate” was quite tame. About the only time anything close to a debate broke out was when Nye accused Drake of wanting to privatize Social Security. Drake jumped at the opportunity to accuse Nye of using “Democrat” talking points. I found that pretty amusing, especially since she kept referring to the estate tax as the “death tax.” Pot, meet kettle.
Overall, I’d say that both candidates accomplished what they set out to do. In talking to people afterwards, I asked them to rate the two. Ancedotally, they rated them about the same: about seven on a scale of one to ten. (Naturally, I didn’t ask everyone in the room. And, of course, some D’s rated Nye higher and some R’s rated Drake higher.) The key, in my opinion, was that the candidates had an opportunity to be heard. And given how quiet this race has been, we needed that.
Photos from PilotOnline