Election debate coverage.

Debate Tonight

RNews, the Time-Warner cable news outlet in Rochester, will broadcast a debate between the two candidates for the 29th seat at 7 p.m. tonight. The debate will also be re-broadcast on Time-Warner's On Demand system, which is channel 108 in Rochester.

I don't have Time-Warner cable, so I won't be watching the debate.

WENY/Star-Gazette Debate

I was able to watch most of the WENY/Star-Gazette debate. Most of the questions and answers were similar to the 13-WHAM debate, which is understandable. Random observations:
  • Near the beginning of the debate, Kuhl thanked WENY for having a "free and open debate" in contrast to what WETM and the Leader were willing to do. I guess Kuhl is at war with one of the most influential, and most conservative, newspapers in the Southern Tier. I don't understand it, but there you have it.
  • There were more questions about gas prices than the 13-WHAM debate. I don't know if that indicates more concern about that in the Southern Tier, or it's just moderator choice.
  • At the beginning of the debate, Massa told watchers to get a piece of paper and mark an "X" every time Kuhl said Massa would raise taxes. Kuhl said that people ought to mark an "X" every time Massa linked him to President Bush. I think that cut down on both of those little sayings.
  • Randy Kuhl doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, privatizing social security. He supports partial privatization, but denies that's what it is. Also, any return on investment that's better than what the government gets implies risk. Politicians always gloss over the details when private accounts are mentioned. Either we accept that people can invest their social security money, and possibly lose some of it, or we reimburse those who are bad investors.
  • Unlike the 13-WHAM debate, the moderators in this debate were clockwatchers. They cut off a lot of good discussion. The more clockwatching, the lower quality of debate.
  • Randy talked about cellulosic ethanol in the limousine with Bush? No, he didn't. Kuhl's conversion to cellulosic ethanol happened this year.
  • Kuhl is for term limits. I hadn't heard that before.
  • In general, the earmarks conversation really went off the rails. I have no idea why Massa thinks that the bowling alley in Canandaigua is such a powerful example, but I really don't see it. Randy wants to abolish the appropriations committee? It's not the committee that's the problem, its the rules under which it functions.
  • Even worse than clock watching is "sprint rounds". "How and when do you withdraw troops from Iraq, in 30 seconds?" That was just awful.

Tonight's Debate

Thanks to Exile from The Albany Project for live blogging, and to all the readers who commented. It was fun, and I hope we can do it again.

Tonight's 13-WHAM debate was far better than last night's WXXI debate in NY-26. Moderators allowed the candidates to answer at length, there was some direct exchange between the two candidates, and the questions were pretty good. Sean Carroll and Don Alhart did a standout job.

Readers who missed the debate can watch a stream at 13-WHAM. I'll publish a link when it's posted. The debate video has been posted at the 13-WHAM video page.

13-WHAM Debate Live Blog

Still More on Debates

Sean Carroll, the moderator of tonight's 13-WHAM debate, has posted six more questions for the campaigns to answer this weekend.

Following up on my earlier post on the low quality of debates, here's a bipartisan group launched today who are asking for better debates: The Open Debate Coalition

Reminder: Debate Tonight

The first Massa/Kuhl debate is at 9 tonight on 13-WHAM.

We'll be live-blogging starting a little before 9 p.m. tonight.

Debate Format Matters

Howard Owens has a post at the Batavian about last night's debate in NY-26. I only sat through half of that debate, but I agree with his conclusion that voters didn't learn much from it.

In anticipation of tonight's debate in the 29th, let's drill in on one of Howard's points: "to be fair, the format sucked".

After watching the first Presidential debate, and comparing it to the other two, I've come to realize how much format matters. The first Presidential debate was much better than the second (or the Vice-Presidential debate) because it allowed the moderator to ask followups and, most importantly, it let the candidates go at each other during those followups. To accomodate that format, each issue took 5-10 minutes of debate time instead of the usual 4 or 5.

Traditional debates like last night's, which had a one-minute response and a 45-second followup, are much easier to game than the long-answer debate. If a politician can spit out 60 seconds of talking points, followed by 45 more seconds of evasive rebuttal, they can easily turn any "debate" into a series of short speeches. It's much harder to spit out canned bullshit when you have to talk about a topic for 5-10 minutes and answer your opponent repeatedly.

The long-form debate also keeps politicians on topic, since they can answer their opponent's charges directly. This is what really kills the traditional debate. Politicians almost always add a rebuttal of the last question to the next question, which just increases confusion.

National media amplifies the bullshit quotient at traditional debates by looking for a "winner" and fixating on "gaffes". Most media pundits watch debates like hockey fans waiting for a fight, or NASCAR fans waiting for a crash. The longer debate doesn't eliminate this tendency, but the short debate feeds it, because each politician is pressured for time and is more prone to try for cute comebacks rather than real analysis.

I know a lot of people who aren't very interested in politics, yet they take time from their schedules to watch debates. Campaigns put huge effort into them. Yet, the end product of so much effort and expense is almost always a low-information, tedious affair.

I believe local media sincerely wants to do better, but they're already operating at a handicap when then copy the terrible, time-limited, non-debate "debate" format that was pioneered back in the 70's.

Just as folks threw away their Earth Shoes and disco albums, we need to trash the Ford/Carter-style debate and use a lengthier, more meaningful format.

Debate Live-Blogging

Tomorrow night we'll be doing something new - collaborative live blogging. Around 9 p.m., Exile from the Albany Project will join me in commenting on the 13-WHAM debate.

We'll be using some new software that allows everyone to comment in real-time. It's more like IM or a chatroom, so it should be pretty interactive. If you're watching the debate and near a computer, stop in and participate.

Friday's Debate Will Be Prime-Time

13-WHAM's Sean Carroll says that Friday's Massa-Kuhl debate will be broadcast at 9 p.m. on Rochester's channel 13. This will be the first non-cable Rochester-area debate for the two candidates.

More Debate Cancellation Coverage

Reader Tom sends the Star-Gazette and Corning Leader [gif] (jump [gif]) stories on the Bath debate cancellation.

Susan Multer of the League of Women Voters is quoted in the Star-Gazette:

"It's a sad day for democracy when elected officials are unwilling to
participate in local candidate forums," Multer said. "It shows great
disrespect for the public for a congressman to take five months and a
state senator to take six weeks to tell the sponsoring organization
that they will not participate and give no reason."

Update: WETM also has a debate story.

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