Martha Coakley should agree to debate Scott Brown one-on-one. She won tonight's debate (which no one saw) and she would win again in another debate with the same format.
Frankly, I think WGBY host Jim Madigan should be hired to be the permanent host of these events. He was very good. I've seen him moderate debates in previous elections and I was impressed with him then. I'm still impressed. The format was very freewheeling and allowed the candidates to carry on a conversation. It also allowed the candidates to question one another relatively freely.
Coakley did a very good job asking questions of Brown and trying to pin him down on some issues. He appeared flustered at times--not out of control by any means--but it seemed clear that he was not completely prepared to be challenged directly. Being calm and reasonable is Coakley's strength, and it came through in the handful of confrontations she and Brown had directly.
She needs to do more of it. She ought to call up the Globe or the League of Women Voters, or whoever wants to have one-on-one debates and tell them that as long as it is a free-wheeling round-table (as opposed to a stodgy debate with a panel of questioners), she is on board. She won tonight and would likely win this format again. The best thing she can do to stem whatever momentum Brown has is to get on TV and beat him again.
A couple of specific thoughts on tonight's discussion:
Coakley was successful in attacking Brown on health care. She pointed out that Brown has filed a bill in the Mass. Legislature to cut out the mandates in the Massachusetts health care program. Brown attempted to turn it around as some sort of a gender-based attack, but he seemed to be knocked off his talking points.
(For what it's worth, he also committed a verbal gaffe that is a pet peeve of mine. He suggested that Coakley inferred that he was against women's health issues when the correct charge is that Coakley implied that Brown was against the issues. I realize that it is a peeve of mine and 90% of the viewers wouldn't have noticed, but I'd hate for him to make that mistake in some big policy debate in the Senate chamber).
Brown rolled out a new (or at least new to me) line of attack on the topic of terrorism and the Christmas Day bombing attempt. He repeatedly used some version of this argument against trying terrorists in domestic courts:
"To have us pay for the attorneys for people trying to kill us is wrong."Well, what does Brown think happens in a military tribunal? The defendant gets a military lawyer. Who pays for military lawyers? Unless we're sending recovery operations out of Guantanamo to dredge pirate booty off the bottom of the sea, we are still paying "for the attorneys for people trying to kill us." It is a ridiculous argument, and Coakley needs to call him out on it directly. She missed her chances to do so.
There must be something about terrorism policy that brings the crazy out in candidates, because Joe Kennedy might have done Brown one better. Kennedy says that because living in a jail is better than living in a cave, affording potential bombers legal rights is an invitation for them to come over here. Seriously. He thinks that al Qaeda will intentionally fail to blow up planes because if they are unsuccessful, they'll get to sleep under a bunk instead of a stalactite?
Finally, Brown badly mischaracterized Obama's tax policy. On at least two occasions he said, "The fact that we have not done an across the board tax cut, and a payroll tax reduction, is wrong." Well, Brown is wrong. Obama did propose--and Congress approved--a payroll tax deduction for the vast majority of Americans as part of the stimulus package. Families like Brown's who likely made over $250,000 per year may not have received it, but 98% of the rest of us did. To suggest that Obama and Democrats did not authorize an across-the-board payroll tax reduction is wrong. Coakley should forcefully defend that as well.
The best way for her to do it is to agree to more debates immediately.