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2010 Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Debate Analysis: KBH Wins, Thanks to Medina

George Nassar's picture

Looking for coverage of the second debate, held January 29? Go to this link.

I think my first reaction to tonight's debate was that if this is what we have to look forward to in the Republican primary, political fact-checkers are on the gravy train. There was so much unsubstantiated he said/she said in this debate that there will likely be a feeding frenzy over parsing the "facts" the candidates were throwing out.

That being said, I'm going to have to give the win in the debate to Senator Hutchison. I'll tell you why in a second -- but first I have to say that I *want* to give the win to Debra Medina.

Who's Debra Medina, you ask? Well, she's the third candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary, a registered nurse, a prior chair of the Wharton County Republican Party -- and the fact that you have to ask is why she deserves a mention. She wins the debate solely by getting to show up, and wins again by not going off the deep end. She has now basically earned credibility (and likely lots and lots of money) by getting to stand toe-to-toe with the two "real" candidates and coming out with the least dirt on her.

The only reason she doesn't come out as the outright winner is that, frankly, she's a pawn. I have trouble believing that she can establish a statewide organization that can rival the two longstanding juggernauts of Texas Republican politics. The only thing Medina adds to the Republican primary is the ability to be used by one of the candidates as a foil to the other.

And Hutchison gets the W tonight, partially because she came in ready and able to use Medina to her advantage in beating up Perry's conservative credentials, and partially because she attacked more, got weak answers to her attacks, and had a couple of decent saves to attacks against her.

I noted throughout my debate liveblog that Rick Perry's answers came across as out of touch -- that his insistence on channeling his cheerleading roots in talking about Texas' strong economic position when the facts indicate that unemployment is up, record numbers of Texans are uninsured, and people are generally hurting and looking for solutions makes him look like he has a tin ear for the problems we need to solve. KBH, as a challenger, gets to pin the blame squarely on Perry while advertising party-line solutions to the problems. She's the "safe change" candidate.

Perry's regular campaign message that Hutchison is a Washington elite without his Texas bona fides was blunted by his having to spend most of his time defending from the combined Hutchison/Medina onslaught and therefore not being able to aggressively follow up on attacks on Hutchison. Perry's attempted shot at her asking what specific departments she would consolidate to cut the budget backfired when she was able to offer detail on the subject -- what should've been a big plus for Perry as a "gotcha" moment instead became a small win for Hutchison, who got to look knowledgeable about state issues. Perry's attack on Hutchison's bailout vote similarly backfired when the letter he wrote was brought up, and the following "yes you did/no I didn't" bickering basically made it a small ding to the performance of both -- essentially a wash between these two candidates. The same thing goes for his claim that she voted for sanctuary cities; she flatly denied it, and that quickly came to the same impasse.

By contrast, KBH's attacks were better justified, more poorly defended against by Perry, and stayed on message questioning Perry's conservative credentials. Perry basically had one line of defense against most of the attacks he saw tonight: that Texas did well under his tenure, is doing well now, and that others are trying to malign one of the strongest states in the nation. The problem with that is that no one believes it. Not only did Medina and Hutchison question his numbers and contradict the claims he made about his policies, but even the moderators gave him grief over his factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the numbers. If he is seriously going to try to stick to that message, he's going to need a much stronger set of facts and figures to base it on -- and it was clear that he did not come into this debate prepared with those. By contrast, Hutchison had clearly prepared and much more credible answers for the attacks she knew she'd see. I find it hard to believe that a politician as savvy as Perry would've been blindsided by the frankly predictable attacks he saw tonight, so I can only wonder at how he could've walked into this situation. Is the Perry political bubble so impermeable to the real world that he really thinks that Texans will ignore unemployment numbers, as well as their own personal plights and those of their friends and neighbors, and blindly believe that we live in the best of possible worlds? I wouldn't have thought that someone could have come so far being that out of touch, but frankly, I don't know what else to think.

So Senator Hutchison walks away with a pretty clear win tonight, with a powerful assist by Debra Medina, who now becomes the credible third option in this race in the eyes of everyone watching tonight. And Democrats, of course, walk away from the debate happy -- the incumbent got pounded, the dark horse got a huge boost in credibility, and enough slime got thrown around to make us look forward to the rest of the Republican primary race.

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