Last night, I posted some quick thoughts on the first ever Lieutenant Governor Debate held at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Today, I hope to take some of the better parts of the five pages of notes that I wrote last night and put them into a coherent entry for your reading pleasure. Let’s see if we can accomplish that feat…
Before I begin, though, I want to mention that I took these notes in an effort to compare the communication styles of the three candidates. In other words, I was looking to see if they connected with the audience, what their demeanor was like during the forum, and how they were adjusting to the changing environment as the questions rolled along.
Loretta Weinberg (Democrat)
Loretta Weinberg came off as very tired in the beginning of the debate. The impression that I got from her was that she would rather be doing anything else in the world than sitting up on that stage answering questions. Her tone wasn’t really that of a privileged person who felt that the debate was beneath her, rather it was the tone of someone who was tired and exhausted.
To Senator Weinberg’s credit, she initially appeared very knowledgeable on the various issues in this campaign. Unfortunately, though, she was the first to throw out a negative attack on the opposition (against the Republicans). In the beginning, Senator Weinberg connected very poorly with the audience that was in the theater. This changed at different points throughout the night, but the worst example of this was when she attempted to use the tried and true strawman argument of the Democrats – blaming President George W. Bush. To the audience’s credit, they booed Senator Weinberg ferociously when she attempted to make the lame connection between New Jersey’s problems and President Bush. Once or twice later in the debate, Senator Weinberg did what all Democratic politicians seeking election this year are doing – she tied her campaign to President Barack Obama. If my memory serves, she commented on how the Governor has worked with the President to bring stimulus dollars to New Jersey.
Early in the debate, Senator Weinberg was hammered by the moderator from NJ 101.5 for constantly going off topic. I also noticed that when she answered questions, Senator Weinberg had a knack for bringing up outside issues that framed her opposition in a negative light. This is what drove the moderator nuts, I think, and is what he kept getting on her case about early in the night.
Senator Weinberg showed a clear knowledge of Governor Jon Corzine’s legislative history. In fact, I think you could say that she has mastered Governor Corzine’s record and his time in politics. Many of her arguments were strong based solely on her ability to recall the Governor’s successes while in office. At times it appeared that the Senator was relying too heavily on the Governor’s record and she seemed to be blurting out talking points. However, that changed as the night went on.
For her part, Senator Weinberg did not engage in usual debate practices. She did not take notes during her opposition’s responses nor did she take notes while questions were being asked. Both of her opponents were jotting down notes furiously throughout the forum. The best comment that I heard from Senator Weinberg was her rebuttal on corruption in New Jersey when she specifically cited the Governor’s legislation banning pay-to-play. Very powerful stuff.
The worst thing that I saw Senator Weinberg do in the debate was her question to her Republican challenger about what items – specifically – she would cut in the upcoming budget. By doing this, she allowed her opposition to directly answer a question that she had, herself, sidestepped. Not a good move in terms of debate.
Overall, I’d rate Senator Weinberg a 7 to 7.5 on a 10 point scale.
Kim Guadagno (Republican)
Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno was the strongest of the three debaters. She had a very direct, confident speaking style that connected with the audience in attendance and those listening at home. While Senator Weinberg was the first to attack her opposition, Sheriff Guadagno was the first to attack a specific person (the Senator). However, Sheriff Guadagno only attacked the Senator after the Senator continued to repeat an untrue statement regarding the Republican campaign’s stance on mammograms. The audience responded very well to this early exchange (and eventually booed the Senator when she continued to bring up the issue throughout the night).
Sheriff Guadagno used a very extemporaneous style of speaking which connected well with the audience. She didn’t stick to a prepared statement on any of the topics that were discussed and the people in the theater responded well to this style. The tone of the Sheriff’s voice was passionate and inflamed at the same time.
When the topic of campaign finance laws came up, Sheriff Guadagno spoke directly to the audience – a very effective move. She followed this up a few minutes later by clarifying a question regarding illegal immigration and some piece of legislation called 287g. Sheriff Guadagno was very clear on her stance towards documented and undocumented workers, which earned her the praise of the audience.
A few moments after this show of strength, though, I believe that Sheriff Guadagno faltered a bit when she tied the Governor to a question about whether or not she would support raising the gas tax. Not a good connection for the Sheriff and something that I think most of the listeners and the audience gave no real credence.
Sheriff Guadagno appeared to be the strongest about midway through the debate when she answered a question on corruption. Her and Chris Christie’s record on busting corruption are impeccable and really something that can’t be contested logically. Sheriff Guadagno was also strong, though to a lesser degree, on her answer to shared services and the very real example that she gave with the 911 system in Monmouth County. Audiences like to hear about real examples and that was a good one.
My favorite discussion throughout the entire night regarding the charter school support from all of the candidates. Sheriff Guadagno was very smart to incorporate the financial pressure that suburban districts are feeling by having a great deal of their tax dollars flow to urban districts with no results from the traditional public schools. Charter schools, on the other hand, are generating real success by breaking the stranglehold that the unionized teachers have on the New Jersey taxpayers and their precious property tax dollars.
Overall, I thought that Sheriff Guadagno won the debate and would rate her performance an 8.5 or 9 out of 10.
Frank Esposito (Independent)
Dr. Frank Esposito spoke in general terms throughout the debate. This was a tactic that eventually began to work against him as the discussion progressed. Dr. Esposito seemed knowledgeable on a few issues, but not well-versed in all of the major issues in the campaign. Yet, I can’t help but to feel that the Independent ticket will receive some type of bump from Dr. Esposito’s performance. New Jerseyans are looking for something different and voting for someone without an R or a D after their name might be the answer this election cycle.
For much of the beginning of the debate, Dr. Esposito relied on humor and one-liners to connect with the audience, which was effective. However, that approach quickly lost its impact once the topics began to dive into specific policies towards the middle of the debate. The one area where Dr. Esposito was the strongest was the discussion on campaign finance reform. Clearly, an Independent candidate running for Lieutenant Governor in a state where big dollars rule the day has a lot to say about campaign finance reform. Again, Dr. Esposito was very strong in this portion of the forum.
The weakest part of Dr. Esposito’s performance was his outright support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. I admit that I have a personal grudge on this issue as student loan debt and college affordability are my hot button issues (which no one else cares about, but they mean something to me). I thought that Dr. Esposito’s brief discussion and stance on this issue really detracted from his performance on the night.
On the other hand, Dr. Esposito was very strong and hit a common chord with the audience when he suggested that politicians busted in corruption rings should automatically forfeit their pensions. The audience loved that – but they loved hearing his comment that while the current administration passed a ban on dual office holding, they exempted themselves from the legislation at the same time. That was clearly Dr. Esposito’s home run of the night and he hit it out of the park.
Overall, I’d score Dr. Esposito with a strong 5.5 out of 10 and, on some answers, I’d give him a solid 7 out of 10.
As you can see from my meager scoring table, I thought that Sheriff Guadagno clearly won the day with both Dr. Esposito and Senator Weinberg coming in at a tie for second or at least with Dr. Esposito coming in at a very close third.