Dems keep it civil in Friday debate, focus on policy

10 Sep

HENNIKER, NH — Weeks of campaign anger and insults came to a head this week when Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett clashed visibly and personally in Wednesday’s debate, but the candidates put their discord aside Friday when they took the stage at New England College.

The two women presented a smart, focused, and driven image, hitting hard on policy issues such as tax code, Social Security and troop withdrawals in Iraq. Democrats can be pleased that whoever they elect will be a formidable candidate in November — both women did very well.

But the debate highlighted the inherent differences between the two candidates, and the degree to which Tuesday’s winner will have a tough fight ahead of her.

The candidates address a small audience at New England College Friday night. The Republicans will debate on Saturday at noon.

In a sharp contrast with Wednesday’s event, Kuster and Swett both largely refused to engage in attacks of the other, and spoke of their desire to raise the level of debate in their race. It would have seemed refreshing — to anyone who missed Wednesday’s debate.

It was particularly clear Friday night that the Democratic race is as much about voters picking a brand of politics they prefer than ideology — both candidates are fundamentally liberal, pro-choice, pro-Obama women who believe in government’s role in securing health care, economic growth and middle class opportunities.

But the two have vastly different personalities and brands of politics, which was clearly on display Friday night.

Swett is a something of a political bulldog. A mother of seven and candidate several times before, she took the lead in answering questions and used animated hand and facial gestures to convey her passion. She is spunky and passionate, comfortable talking policy and using anecdotes (however saccharine at times) to illustrate her points. When she talks of fighting for the middle class, it seems that she could break out boxing gloves at any minute. On Friday, she brought her A-game.

Kuster, in contrast, never looks quite as comfortable  behind a podium as she does in voter living rooms. She can come off as slightly plodding in debates, repeating her mantra of running a grassroots campaign. But while she lacks Swett’s flair for drama, she has a grounded, Yankee sensibility that appeals well to voters in a more personal settings. She is likable and articulate at the same time, and on Friday, seemed at ease in her role as the progressive candidate.

The two are set for a competitive race on Tuesday, but the questions on Friday already hinted at the challenges to come. Debate moderators asked both women if they thought the negativity of the campaign they’ve waged will serve as ammunition for whoever the Republican elect next week. While both claimed this would not be the case, GOP blogger glee last week told another story.

Democrats will have a tough choice on Tuesday, but it’s the contest that starts Wednesday that they should be worried about — in some ways, the fight has only just begun.

Check back Saturday afternoon for a post-event analysis of the Republican debate. It will be held at noon at New England College. Read more information here.

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