What I Heard in the Delaware Debate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 13 2010 10:06 PM

What I Heard in the Delaware Debate

DENVER -- I was traveling, following the U.S. Senate candidates here, during the slightly over-played U.S. Senate debate between Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons. But I caught most of it on the radio, and nothing much surprised me. Coons is not a politician in the Joe Biden mold. He's in the Tom Carper, Bill Roth mold -- a wonk who really does tingle at the word "compromise." And he passed up a number of chances to nail O'Donnell, but he didn't really disguise his irritation at having to debate a product of the cable news universe, "Hide your contempt" is usually a good rule to follow, but does it work when most of the electorate thinks your opponent is unqualified for office? We're testing that.

Having covered Christine O'Donnell and interviewed her, I'm still thrown by the interest the national press holds in her. She's a competent TV pundit who doesn't really drill down into policy. Lo and behold, she tossed off a ton of TV lines without saying much about policy. Oh, yes, she spoke about it in soundbite terms, but at every moment where Coons or moderators asked her to take her stance to its logical conclusion, she wandered into Neverland. Really, 10 minutes after she was explaining that it was unfair to judge her on her financial record, she proposed more accountability from people who used emergency rooms because they didn't have insurance. Or something.

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I suppose that the Rise of the Tea Party candidate -- and we could say the first one was Sarah Palin, really, as she was given national prominence by conservative bloggers and media -- has led to debates with ultra-low expectations for those candidates. I imagine that Sharron Angle will fail to spontaneously combust, and thus be declared a surprise winner on points of her debate with Harry Reid.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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