If Monday’s debate between Bob Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley was reminiscent of the legendary fight between Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis, Thursday’s debate at the Washington Post was more Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier – two experienced, evenly-matched contenders pounding the crap out of each other.
Performance-wise, it was a pretty even matchup with a slight edge to Ehrlich, who also benefited from the expectations game coming out of Monday. There was no game-changing moment here, which benefits incumbent O’Malley.
After the WJZ debacle, Ehrlich needed to bring his “A game” to the Washington Post – and he did. Debates can be won with a single clever one-liner, and Ehrlich had several effective zingers throughout the debate. What’s more, he turned his authenticity back into an asset. Compared to Monday, it was a night and day performance.
One significant criticism of Ehrlich’s performance: He brought up the 2006
schools controversy again – something which few people other than political junkies like me remember. Clearly it is something that bothers him. But, he needs to let it go. Rehashing 2006 is not going to win him any votes. And, it wastes time that could be spent discussing jobs and the economy – the only relevant issues this year. Baltimore City
O’Malley got in a few effective jabs on the issue of taxes. Clearly the Democrats want to equalize Ehrlich and O’Malley on tax/spending issues – something which ultimately benefits O’Malley. I thought O’Malley praising Ehrlich for enacting the “flush tax” was a clever way of reminding voters of who had passed it.
Both candidates accomplished what they needed to accomplish going into the debate.
Ehrlich’s performance will rally his supporters, many of whom have been dispirited by recent unfavorable polls as well as negative news coverage following the Monday debate. The last thing Ehrlich needs is for his supporters to conclude the race is over and not show up at the polls. They need to see a confident and energized candidate. Monday, they didn’t – but Thursday, they did.
O’Malley’s performance was typically polished and on par with past TV appearances. His objective going into the debate was not to commit any gaffes which Ehrlich could exploit. The biggest criticism one can make of O’Malley is that he perhaps seemed a bit too talking point reliant – something Ehrlich referenced effectively at different points during the debate.
As I have argued in prior blog postings, these debates matter more to Ehrlich than O’Malley, as it is up to Ehrlich to convince voters why they need to fire O’Malley and rehire him. During his performance, I think he hit both arguments intermittently. While I am not sure he sold these arguments, he definitely delivered the game sustaining performance he needed.