How the candidates did: What our analysts thought

April 18, 2012 

Four area political analysts shared their reactions to Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate:

J. Michael Bitzer, political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury: “Having survived the 20-plus slugfests (aka debates) among the Republican presidential candidates, I had high hopes for tonight’s final debate. Monday’s seemed like the candidates were circling each other in the ring, sizing each other up for the next round. Then Tuesday’s debate came, and they started to throw some punches – nothing too devastating, but enough to show they were spoiling for a fight. So with the third night in a row, maybe we could have seen the gloves come off and go for the political version of Ultimate Fighter?

“Alas, the candidates went back to their respective corners and played it safe. None of the three threw in the towel, but no one went for the thrill of the kill either. Maybe the threat of a mid-summer run-off will heat things up over the next few weeks?”

Brad Crone, political strategist and head of Campaign Connections in Raleigh: “Viewers watching TV Wednesday night saw more hits and punches in the Philly-Pittsburg hockey game than they did watching the three Democratic candidates for governor. The good news for all three candidates was the fact that there wasn’t a major flub or attack/counterattack moment for any of them.

“Etheridge looked gubernatorial and talked about leadership. Dalton, overly animated, delivered his key points on workforce training, however his body language was too active, and that often distracts viewers from following what he is saying. Faison demonstrated an ease that only a well-trained trial attorney could possess, and was successful in driving home his key points on his jobs plan. For Etheridge, the leading candidate in the polls, the debate was a success because neither Dalton nor Faison had enough firepower to knock him out of first place.”

David McLennan, political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh: “The candidates rarely strayed far from their talking points. Bill Faison answered most questions by referring to his jobs plan and his website. Bob Etheridge made strengthening education the solution for almost every problem. Walter Dalton spoke often about the Early College program he helped create.

“Etheridge seemed most comfortable, while Faison looked confident except when being asked about gay marriage or to explain how he would reduce the budget. Dalton struggled with projecting warmth as he used a forced smile throughout many of his answers. In most political debates the winner is determined by which candidate met or exceeded the expectations before the event. Using this standard, I would say that Bob Etheridge came across as the most gubernatorial.”

Donna Martinez, senior political correspondent, Curtis Media Group: “Score this debate for Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. Unlike previous debates, where he seemed over-prepared, Dalton was comfortable and confident. His answers were clear and sounded less like standard talking points. Dalton also delivered a line guaranteed to appeal to the party faithful when he said he is proud to be in a party that stereotypes no one and respects everyone.

“Rep. Bill Faison showed his usual feistiness and willingness to challenge his competitors, as well as to go after Republican policies. Still, he seemed a bit off his game and at times gave disjointed answers. His strongest moments came when discussing his jobs plan and his opposition to requiring photo ID to vote. Voters who like a fighter will gravitate to Faison.

“Former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge gave his usual steady performance. Education is clearly his comfort zone, and he turned many questions back to that issue. That tendency, however, may hurt him with voters looking for evidence of broad interest and ideas. His folksy manner will appeal to Democratic voters looking for dependability and tradition.”

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