Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Here's Looking at Me, Me, Me, Me

First, nobody won last night's sole televised debate among the four Dems who would take over Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. I'll sketch what I got out of it.

You can get the nuggets panned by analysts everywhere. I suggest starting with the Phoenix' Bernstein and the Globe's Mooney. In addition, some outside commentators on NRP and elsewhere are trying the idea that as the four are so similar and the primary only six weeks away, advertising will play a huge role; even here though, all four have enough money to compete and match each other's efforts.

Instead, look at the four like most voters are probable to view them. They presented themselves and appeared quite distinctive on the superficial level. while politically similar. That would be how we often decide whether we like someone, be it a coworker, someone at church or a politician.

This was the only chance most of us will get to see and hear the four hip to hip. Which of them would you put into a well-worn U.S. Senate leather chair? (By the bye, the eyes above, from left, belong to Stephen Pagliuca, Michael Capuano, Martha Coakley and Alan Khazei.)

To my shallow points, start that as a group, none of them had annoying stage presence. They didn't fidget or hide by looking at index cards or jingle change in a pocket or diddle an earlobe.

On the other hand, none came across like an elder statesman or even serious senator. Only the lawmaker, Capuano, was believable in the part of lawmaker. The other three are auditioning for the role.

Long-term Ted Kennedy observers and historians frequently note that he started 47 years ago younger than any of these four and no more experienced. In fact, Capuano would be an Eagle Scout to the freshman Ted's Cub. So, the three who have never been legislators of any type can reasonably claim to deserve a chance.

From the left of the stage, I met:
  • Martha Coakley — She does a good balance as coming across as a woman professional without being girly. Her pixie-short do tends to make her look a bit like a cartoon, think Jiminy Cricket or Peter Pan, but she doesn't growl, "I'm a woman, damn it!" nor giggle like a ditz. While her opening and closing statements took no risks and had little content, she at least seemed very sure of herself. (For unsolicited clothing advice, she could lose the Transformer-style shoulders on the jacket — distractingly pointy.)
  • Alan Khazei—He did better in the actual debate. When introduced, he grinned like he'd been hit in the head too often. He then came across as pretty smarmy at several points. He was the only one who seemed to be trying to sell us something. Physically, it's not his fault, but he does come across as kind of a Groucho Marx with the huge glasses and thick eyebrows; I expected to hear, "Say the secret word and win $100.)
  • Michael Capuano —He looked and acted what he is. He wasn't a rich guy in a custom suit; his looked like it probably was, one he'd campaigned in. His presentation was an odd mix. He stressed his big selling point, that he was the only one with Congressional experience, including a verifiable voting record. Then while he was telling us how well he worked with others to get things done, he was his characteristic combative self. I like his straight-ahead attitude, which others may find arrogant.
  • Stephen Pagliuca —He seemed much brighter and nicer than I had imagined. He played freshman basketball at Duke, although he has the carriage and shoulders of a high-school wrestler. At Bain, he clearly deals with many people who know their stuff and on stage he deferred frequently to Capuano and indirectly to President Obama and others whom he saw as fact-based managers (he loves fact-based).
Of the bunch, Coakley avoided risks the most. Conventional wisdom supports that posture. She was the jack rabbit, entering the race weeks before the others and doing her best to pretend she's Snow White with three dwarfs around her.

All four though avoided some answers, apparently for different motivations. That was a joy to the moderator, Peter Meade, head of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. He noted when they did that, although he occasionally blew it. For example, he started with a question about what moment each realized the desire to run for the seat. Three sidestepped it with a reply about why they were the right candidate. Capuano actually answered it, describing his thought process and timing, plus painting a moment where he stood alone analyzing whether he had the will to go for it. Unfortunately Meade was thinking ahead to scolding the quartet and missed it. Cappy was quick to correct him.

Throughout, Capuano alone seemed impatient with the three non-legislators. He is brusque in a way that I appreciate. He even seems frustrated with the race, as though the choice is obvious. Do you go with the pro or take a flier on an unproven and unknown person?

Yet, Coakley has kept her precocious lead. Capuano's experience, liberal votes and courageous stance are indisputable, but that hasn't leapfrogged her in the race. This is be a fascinating month and a half.
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