There were three clear losers in last night’s debate between Nebraska U.S. Senate candidates Sid Dinsdale, Bart McLeay, Shane Osborn and Ben Sasse.
Those 3 losers are:
1) Moderator Joe Jordan
2) Moderator Jim Rose
3) The miserable format
(“Awwwwww! We thought Sweeper was going to tell us which candidates stunk!“)
Here is the reality, Republican voters: Each of the four candidates is a smart, quality, conservative individual. It is rare that there is an election where each candidate is smart, experienced, can think on their feet, knows the issues, isn’t strange in some way or is someone who you just don’t like personally.
Nebraska would be lucky to have any one of the four candidates representing them in the Senate.
Annnnnd, they all performed very well in the debate. You can argue one way or another on various points, but any neutral observer would call it a 4-way tie.
How do you get to a point where voters can decide on one of them?
Well sure as heck not from that debate format.
Here is the problem folks: If the next debate does not allow the candidates a) sufficient time to talk and b) confront each other on issues, this campaign will ultimately be decided by outside groups who bombard the airwaves with attack ad after attack ad.
So let us be realistic that we know the candidates can speak knowledgeably about “repealing ObamaCare , growing the economy and cutting taxes.”
What are the differences between the candidates? Well, you can continue to let moderators ask each of the candidates what the differences are. And the candidates will talk about their individual experience and blahdity blahdity blah.
That is not going to do it.
The candidates need to be able to directly engage each other, ask the tough questions that the moderators won’t ask and ANSWER those tough questions.
That is why the current format is a waste of everyone’s time. No one is debating anything when the candidates agree on literally ALL of the questions.
Then there is the time. How much time did the candidates get to answer the questions? A minute? And that was after the moderators took two to three minutes to ASK the questions.
For instance, Ben Sasse was the one candidate who clearly came armed with 2-3 canned one-liners that he knew would get a mention in the papers or the radio the next day “President Obama is the Kim Kardashian of government excess.” OK, we aren’t entirely sure of what that means, but it was quote-worthy, right?
Well, this format is set up so that the very best you can hope for is a clever one-liner. Ask a big long complicated question, asking for three different specific responses for how we can respond to the effects government has had over the last 40 years, and please keep your answer to 60 seconds.
Are you kidding?
Which brings us to our questioners.
Look, Nebraska Watchdog’s Joe Jordan and KFAB’s Jim Rose did a better job than the questioners in the last debate.
Jordan decided he had some real gotcha questions for the candidates, like,
Q: “Would you raise taxes for…WAR???!!!!”
A: “No. No. No. No.”
Follow-up Q: Not even FOR WAR????
Or then he wanted to know what specific number of illegal aliens coming over the border is OK. All candidates said “seal the border.” Jordan followed up with THE SAME QUESTION, arguing that “How do you know whether the border has been sealed sufficiently if you don’t have a number???”
Which is an interesting point, Joe, except Shane Osborn nailed it by pointing out, well, one WMD would be too many, right? So while you would like them to be super-duper specific, you give an unreasonable scenario.
And even then, what if one candidate answered, “Well, I think 100 illegals crossing the border a month would be acceptable.” (Which gets back to Osborn’s point of, is that 100 Swedish children or 100 Uzbeki terrorists?) But even then, the next candidate to answer is going to say, “100 per month? I’d say 100 per YEAR!” And then the next says, “You appeaser! I’d say 100 per 10 years is too many!”
And then you’ve gotten nowhere.
Part of Jordan’s problem was that he chose questions where he wanted to argue a point — where he KNEW that the candidate would give the opposite answer. Which you can sort-of do in a one-on-one interview, but not in a debate among four candidates.
Not to mention, when GOP voters are looking for differences between the candidates, don’t ask a “Will you raise taxes?” question, when you know how all four will answer. That could possibly work in the general election debates, but not in the primary.
And as long as we are cranking on Jordan — for this thankless job — what was with the “if you can’t win, who would you vote for?” It was telling that the packed house of campaign operatives and press people audibly groaned and booed the question.
Seriously, is there ANYTHING gained by that question and any answers, other than maybe some levity? Did voters learn anything?
And then there was Jim Rose, who decided that the way for the candidates to get super specific was to ask them four-minute long questions, asking for part A, part B and part C answers, pertaining to the period from the founding of Rome to the present with four specific sub-examples for each, excluding the Department of Roads, Energy and the UN Security Counsel, but including the NRA without any references to Huey Lewis.
And then you’d hear the answer is, “I would start by repealing ObamaCare…” along with references to Nebraska values, freedom and lower taxes.
All in 60 seconds.
We appreciate what Rose was getting at, but his question was more suited to a Sophomore mid-term paper than to a super-brief debate answer.
So what is the answer to this equivalent of staring at the little spinning pinwheel on your computer for 70 minutes?
Well, unless the Nebraska GOP makes the conscious decision to let the out-of-state third party ads decide the election, they need to change the format for the last debate.
1) Let the candidates ask each other questions. Maybe, because of time limits, only one or two each.
2) Give them enough time to answer — meaning the debate lasts at least 90 minutes, if not 120.
3) Let them respond to each other, follow-up, argue, mix it up. There can be a strong moderator to control this.
4) Don’t worry about it being televised, because NO ONE is watching it anyway. People will, however, read the summaries in the paper and watch the bites on the TV and listen to discussion on the radio. This is maybe unfortunate, but it is the reality. If someone wants the whole thing they can watch a webcast, which a TV station can offer on their site without anyone missing an episode of The Bachelor.
5) Skip opening statements. Complete waste of time. Allow a close in order to clean up any answers.
We are sure there are more ways to fix this. But some sort of change is needed. Heck, Nebraska could be featured by the national press for having a format that allowed voters to actually make a choice.
Or they can just let the battle between the national GOP factions decide Nebraska’s next U.S. Senator.
You decide which you want.
In the FWIW category, Breitbart.com is reporting a new poll for the Senate race, as follows:
The ironic thing about the Breitbart story is that they say that Sasse is “surging” and “gaining ground”, when these numbers are actually a dip for Sasse and an uptick for Osborn from the last poll which had Osborn at 30% and Sasse at 29%.
The poll surveyed 600 Nebraskans likely to vote in the Senate election--400 of which identified as Republican – between Feb. 25-28. The poll had a margin error of +/- 4.9 percent for the Republican subgroup.
It is unclear to us why the pollsters would include 1/3 of people who cannot vote in the GOP primary.
There are certainly cross-tabs — from this poll taken
2 weeks 11 days ago — that show what the GOP numbers are. We do not know why those would not be published.
If we had to bet, we would put the actual numbers somewhere between the two, which still leaves Osborn and Sasse, and possibly Dinsdale, fighting it out for that 30% of undecideds.