Debate analysis: Did the candidates for governor accomplish their goals?

10/12/2011 07:00 AM

The long-awaited first debate for the three candidates for governor is … over. That was essentially the news: All three candidates showed up. And they disagreed with each other, mostly over Gov. Steve Beshear’s efforts to create jobs.

The forum, sponsored by the Kentucky League of Women Voters and Kentucky Broadcasters Association, had a strict format of 1 minute answers and 30-second responses that allowed for little in the way of interaction between the candidates.

None of the three succeeded in making any major headlines. That right there is an advantage for Beshear, who leads Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith in the polls. But each had at least a couple good shots and somewhat memorable moments. Here’s a quick wrap-up:

*Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear
*
After months of putting off engaging his opponents, Beshear showed he give some sharp lines as much as he could take criticism.

Beshear repeatedly deflected criticism from his opponents about his administration’s economic development strategies. At one point he responded to David Williams’ criticisms about incentives by noting Williams’ father-in-law’s company sought out $1 million in incentives to create about two dozen jobs.

He answered Williams about the issue of expanded gambling by saying, “We’ve got folks going across the river to spend their entertainment money, including Senator Williams.” (The Herald-Leader reported last spring that tax filings with Williams’ divorce case from 2003 revealed gambling losses at nine casinos.) Williams referred to that as a “cheap shot.”

Throughout the debate, Beshear essentially was able to pick and choose which specific criticisms from his opponents he’d respond to and which he’d just ignore by repeating his position.

With a solid lead in the most recent polls, Beshear essentially needed to avoid making any mistakes or allowing his opponents to steal the show. He accomplished that. And like the rest of the campaign, he did so without having to reveal specific plans for the next four years, if he is re-elected.

Republican candidate David Williams

Williams stuck to his theme that the governor hasn’t done much to advance the state. But he didn’t leave debate watchers with a take-away line to make them rethink the race.

He tried one in his closing remarks, comparing Beshear to Christopher Columbus, who “didn’t know where he was going … didn’t know where he was when he got there … and did it all on borrowed money.” But it lacks that compact punch of a spontaneous game-changing jab.

Perhaps his strongest line was after the governor side-stepped a question about whether he would support or oppose legislation to require prescriptions for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. Williams said that was a typical answer from Beshear — not to give one. That’s “what kind of leader he hasn’t been.”

That was as close as Williams got to a “There you go again” moment. Williams has lagged behind Beshear in the polls and struggled to distill his reasons for wanting voters to fire Beshear. So he needed to generate the headlines Wednesday morning. He didn’t.
*
Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith *

Galbraith essentially wove his stock campaign speech throughout the debate as he talked about the failure of the two major parties, his plan to provide $5,000 credits to high school graduates to go to college in Kentucky and even his pitch for the African root Iboga as a natural remedy for drug addiction.

For Galbraith, who hasn’t aired TV commercials and might not be able to afford to, a televised debate — and one broadcast on 150 commercial radio stations and a half dozen public radio stations — was probably the best chance to introduce his platform to the most voters at once.

He did get some attention from the media after the debate as reporters followed up on his unsubstantiated claim in his closing statement that Beshear will “resign after two years” and hand the governor’s office over Jerry Abramson, his running mate. (Beshear’s camp is denying that.)

Galbraith consistently tailored his message to voter who might be disaffected with the parties or bored with their party’s nominee. He strongly opposed mountain top removal mining to the delight of liberals. And he alluded to Williams tenure in the state Senate as providing gridlock.

But like Williams, Galbraith went after the governor over economic development but didn’t deliver a knock-out.

(Programming note: For more reaction, analysis and fact-checking of the candidates, watch Pure Politics Wednesday night on cn|2 at 7 p.m./6 p.m. Central or 11:30 p.m./10:30 Central).

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