First impressions from the debate, which I watched, spin-free, on television from the safety of my Sacramento office:
Gray Davis got the first half-hour to himself, and he must have said 11 times that he was committed to “connecting” more with the voters. But like the writing teacher who used to say to us, “don’t tell me, show me,” I’d like to actually see Gray connecting rather than hearing him talk about it all night. When a lay questioner told him his story – unemployed tech engineer, angry, worried about jobs shipped overseas – Gray acknowledged his pain but then went on to say that he favored punishing corporations that register abroad to avoid paying taxes. I know if I were in that guy’s shoes, nothing would tick me off more than hearing the governor trying to score political points rather than addressing my concerns.
While everyone has been nagging Gray to admit the mistakes he claims to now realize he made, Cruz jumped in without even being asked and acknowledged that he was wrong to have voted for the 1996 bill that deregulated electricity in California, a bill of which he was a co-author. Perhaps he thinks that vote might yet come back to haunt him?
Arianna Huffington has a good thing going with her jihad against the prison industrial complex and the correctional officers union. She said she wants teachers to be paid more than prison guards and later said one theme of her campaign is “books, not bars.”
Tom McClintock’s performance reminded me of the old line that when you tell the truth, you don’t have to worry about keeping your stories straight. Whatever you might think of him and his ideas, it can’t be said that McClintock trims his sails to match his audience. This is a man who knows what he believes and isn’t going to be shaken from it. He also knows how to say it in 60 seconds if that is what you give him, or 30, or even 15. He distinguished himself as a conservative’s conservative, on everything from taxes to abortion, the death penalty, immigration and the environment. I still don’t think he’s in the mainstream of the electorate, but he has the look of a guy who is willing to wait for the rest of us to figure out what he’s known all along.
Peter Ueberroth looked lackluster and unsure of himself once again. I did like the way he kept bringing everything back to the jobs issue, to the point that he even drew a back-handed compliment from the moderator for staying “on message.” He also resolutely stuck to his pledge not to criticize anyone, for anything. I thought he might have wanted to reconsider that vow after Arianna, reacting to Ueberroth’s defense of corporations, asked, “How dumb is that on a scale of one to ten?” But no.
Peter Camejo struck a blow for political correctness when he noted that he was for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California – that is, the descendants of illegal European immigrants who landed in America hundreds of years ago. Hah hah. But while he’s fine with the Latinos who he said had claim to this land for thousands of years, he was cool to the true natives, the Indian tribes, and their number one industry. “Casinos are not good thing,” he said.
Arnold might have been right after all to skip this debate. He certainly suffered no direct damage on television Wednesday for his absence. A few Warren Buffett comments and one cute line from Cruz. Had he been there, he might have outshone these folks, but then again he might have been dragged down to their level. By staying away it’s possible he might have left some viewers wishing he were there, not so they could see him grilled by a panel of journos but so he could brighten the afternoon a bit. Of course, he is likely to take a bigger beating in the morning papers, which will make more of his absence and keep the buzz going about his unwillingness to answer questions.
The big winner in the debate: marijuana. All five candidates declared their support for making it available for medicinal purposes. It was the only thing on which they all agreed.
UPDATE: AskJeeves.Com founder Garrett Gruener, a Democrat running for governor, attended the debate and answered the questions in real time on his web site. He seems to have snuck in a few phantom questions while he was at it, as if there weren't enough asked as it was. God bless him. Here's the link.