Monday, September 25, 2006

Staying out of jail, and other thoughts on the tonight's debate

Let me get this confession out of the way: I have driven a car with an expired registration. I think it's important to state that up front since Christy Mihos proposed tonight that driving without a license or registration should be a felony. I'll be voting against Christy since I don't want to go to jail.

Oh, and get Shonda Schilling off my TV.

In other news, tonight's debate was good for Deval Patrick. Patrick came into the night riding the momentum of a surprisingly strong victory in the Democratic primary and a stunning 64-25 lead over Kerry Healey in the first poll after the primary. I wondered if he would play it safe and defend his lead or go for the kill. He got the best of both worlds as he was able to reaffirm the positions where he is on the side of the majority, let the issues which work against him get lost in all of the crosstalk, and sit back while Christy Mihos and Grace Ross led the attack on Kerry Healey.

The only thing I heard from Patrick which was "new" (at least to me) was the charge that the Romney-Healey administration had raised "taxes and fees" by over $900 million dollars during their time in office. Frankly, that's not a lot of money and not a big deal, but it is clear that Patrick will be touting that number to try to neutralize Healey's attacks on his position.

Patrick didn't score any points against Healey, but Healey took her lumps as Ross and Mihos pounded her on essentially everything the Romney administration has done over the years. In fact, Patrick appeared pretty reasonable in agreeing with Healey on a couple of items when she would attempt to rebut an attack from the other two candidates.

Mihos especially led the charge, attacking Healey on the Big Dig and budget issues. He pounded away on leadership issues, reminding Healey that she and Romney have had four years to make the changes that she is proposing, and have failed on all accounts. As a former member of the Turnpike Authority who spoke against the excesses of the Big Dig and was fired by a Republican governor, he has credibility on the issue that the other three candidates don't have, and his command of the issue and the passion with which he discussed it were his strong points.

However that passion caused him problems when he was discussing other issues, he often lost track of his points as he spoke, repeating himself in some instances and changing subjects abruptly in others. It was as though he was so excited that he forgot what he was saying. In fact, he probably came across worse on the radio than on TV. I heard the first 10 minutes of the debate while driving home from work and had an impression of a wildly gesturing, wide-eyed lunatic. On TV, he seemed energetic but composed.

Ross surprised me a little. While she seemed disinterested through much of the first part of the debate, she was genuinely passionate and articulate when speaking about economic issues and the challenges facing urban and working families. The election won't be won or lost on those issues, and Ross doesn't have the money, organization, or personal presence to make much of a dent. But I'd be surprised if she isn't able to claim the 3% of the vote necessary to qualify the Green-Rainbow party for the ballot in 2008. In fact, I wouldn't be stunned if she finished third, ahead of Mihos.

Healey seems a little more impressive to me each time I hear her, but I think that's because my expectations for her are low. For four years, I've only seen her stand next to the attention hog that is our governor, and I think I've subconsciously assumed that it has something to do with her inability to add anything. But she's in a really tough spot. If she attacks Patrick as hard as I think she wants to, she will come across as being shrill, and it will play right into Patrick's strategy of staying above the fray. If she defends herself against the attacks of Mihos and Ross, she runs the risk of getting bogged down arguing with opponents that can't beat her. I'm not sure how she breaks out of that spot. I suppose her only chance is to attempt to bait Patrick into losing his cool, but we saw how that worked for Tom O'Reilly.

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