Four of the five Democratic candidates for Congress had their first debate Tuesday night, obligatory sponsor credit to VTDigger, and I have to say, all four of them did extremely well. From start to finish, they put on one of the best debate performances I can recall viewing. Their answers were direct and concise (I only counted one time when an answer went over the 90-second time limit). Each of them had a clear message, in words and in presentation, and they got their messages across. A few jabs were thrown, but there were also expressions of respect. Camaraderie, even.
Maybe this is what we get when the women take the stage. Makes me think we’ve been electing the wrong gender all these years.
So, before I start picking away at this thing, I’ll say it again: I came away with a positive view of all four participants. You have to get down to the nit-picky level to find grounds for criticism. They even handled the “Name one mistake you’ve made” question with aplomb. None fell back on the “I can’t think of one” or “Sometimes I’m too smart for my own good” kind of stuff that you often hear from, well, male politicians. Each referenced a mistake, owned it and explained it, openly and honestly.
The debate was a real display of the importance of representation. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray named paid family leave as her top priority. I doubt you’d hear a man say that. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint made eloquent use of her identity as a gay woman. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Sianay Chase Clifford showed how their lived experience informs their work on behalf of women and people of color.
I’m going to focus most of my attention on presentation, for two reasons: Voters are more swayed by their impressions than by policy positions. Likeability and relatability count for a lot, and I say that as someone who cares about policy. Second, there simply wasn’t much separation on the issues. Gray took a more moderate position several times, but that makes her a Pat Leahy/Peter Welch type, not some Republican in Democratic clothing. Ram Hinsdale and Chase Clifford positioned themselves in the progressive camp; Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint was, for the most part, right there alongside. She differed more in approach than in substance.Continue reading