I just watched a TV re-run of yesterday's U.S. Senate debate at the N.C. Bar Association meeting in Wilmington. In true, objective news reporting style, the N&O's headline — "Burr, Marshall rip Washington" — gave no indication whatsoever that one candidate might've dominated or that the other could've stayed home for all he said. (Oops. Did I just give my punchline away?) The newspaper's article, too, quite judiciously avoided any conclusions as to the Burr-Marshall outcome, and in fact gave more than equal time to the observations of the third candidate on stage, Libertarian Mike Beitler, who maintained — incorrectly — that the choice of Burr or Marshall was no choice at all.
So who won? Elaine Marshall did, convincingly, and I have to believe that even Richard Burr's staffers told him afterward that he can't get through an entire Senate campaign saying absolutely nothing about every issue.
Let me see if I can summarize the debate:
Burr said the issues in Washington boil down to one thing, that Congress spends too much money. He said it repeatedly, but in an hour-long debate, he failed to mention a single area of spending that he would cut. He did, indirectly, defend his votes against providing extended unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs because of the Great Recession — or as I would call it, and Marshall should too, the Republican Recession.
So if I understood Burr correctly — and if I didn't, it's because he was amazingly vague about every subject — the only "overspending" he'd cut is aid to those who used to work and are looking for work but who can't find work because the economy still sucks. Otherwise, he had not the first thought about how to change Washington's direction.
Beitler, a CPA who teaches business at UNC-Greensboro, would end the two wars immediately, cut like crazy — he didn't say exactly what, but he's a Libertarian, so figure nothing's off the table — and get the government out of "intolerance" business by, for example, dropping the laws against gay marriage.
He's not for any sort of stimulus. The stimulus must come from the private sector, he said.
Marshall: Pro-stimulus, specifically in the form of jobless benefits and federal aid to the states to save teachers jobs and forestall Medicaid cuts. (The $500 million problem, that is.) Marshall nailed Burr on off-shore drilling (he's on the Energy Committee and has done nothing to address the cozy relationship of the oil companies to the Department of the Interior's non-regulating regulators, she said; but Burr has taken a whole lot of campaign money from the oil industry.)
I've been critical of Marshall over the course of the Democratic primary campaign, thinking she wasn't very sharp ... or, later, not sharp enough. I've been remiss in noting that, after an initial, less-than-boffo performance against Cal Cunningham in the first runoff primary debate, Marshall was much better in the second debate and better still when she claimed victory Tuesday night.
The difference between Marshall the first time I heard her in January and yesterday is huge. She's gone from dismal to very good; meanwhile, Burr's performance yesterday was, and I'll be polite since the one thing he did get across yesterday was his friendliness, hapless. Especially for a 16-year veteran of Congress.
But don't take my word for it. You can watch it yourself at WRAL.com.