Election debate coverage.

Tea-Time in Canandaigua

If you like your food and your politics bland and pre-digested, I commend you to the Canandaigua Rotary Club.  A find organization, to be sure, but the event they hosted this afternoon was like a white-bread sandwich from their buffet.  No taste, no texture, and very little meat.

In a real debate, each candidate usually has an opportunity to refute the other's answer to questions.  At this event, each candidate had 3 minutes to answer the question, and then moved on.  Because of these ground rules, both candidates tended toward uninformative stump rhetoric. Part of this is due to the nature of Rotary, which is really a fine organization, but one devoted to harmony rather than discord.

So, with that understanding, on to the "debate":

From the opening statement to the last word, it was Eric "Look at the World" Massa vs. Randy "Look at the District" Kuhl.  After subtly pointing out that the Mayor of Canandaigua was a supporter, Massa began by saying that the election was about staying the course or changing course.  Kuhl began with a recitation of his local boy resume peppered with a few Canandaigua references.

Two of the questions were on Iraq and the NIE's take on Islamic fundamentalism.  Kuhl repeated his "I went to Iraq and I saw ..." answer, omitting the references to eating lobster, for the first.  Massa's response laid out his partition strategy.  For the second, Kuhl went through a disquisition on the secrecy of the document (very softly implying that he might know better, since he's read the whole thing), and then pointed out that one of the conclusions of the document was that beating Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq would deal a blow to that movement in general.  Massa talked about how not finishing the job in Afghanistan emboldened fundamentalists, and that we've got our eye off the ball in the "18th century" occupation of Iraq.

Since the next question, on health care, had Massa go first, he talked about his experience surviving cancer, and then pointed out that 47 million people are without health care in the US.  Health care is his #1 reason for running, and he favors a single-payer system.  He also made a point that scare talk about "socialized medicine" doesn't let the debate get off the ground, and that the most important thing is that we re-open this debate.  Kuhl began with an arithmetic lesson, pointing out that 253 million have health care in the US, and the issue is getting the rest of us covered.  He pointed to the Baldwin-Price Health Care Bill, which pushes the issue down to the states, as one of the things he supports.  Kuhl's statement that a good portion of the uninsured work, and therefore elect not to have coverage, came out a bit clueless, since he seemed to imply that all workers have access to affordable health care.  Because this wasn't a real debate, he didn't get a chance to clarify that statement, which Massa would have challenged. 

On to Jobs and the Economy.  How do we get more jobs, including manufacturing jobs, back here?  Kuhl thinks we need to balance the budget and get more federal funds back to the 29th.  Massa thinks the culprit is overly permissive trade agreements, and he wants to see better enforcement of, if not changes to, CAFTA, NAFTA and similar pacts.  He also pointed out that New York gets 74 cents back for every dollar sent to DC, and he hopes that a new congressional delegation (hint, hint) and a new Governor will be able to work together to better that amount.

The next question was a Miss America: "As a representative, how do you advance local issues vs. national issues.  Does one take priority over the other?"  And, if elected, how will you work toward world peace and harmony?  (Just kidding, I added that last sentence.).  Both candidates gave speeches.  Massa's centered around protecting the constitution, and patriotism over partisanship. Apple pie would have been mentioned, but time ran out.  Kuhl's speech began by genuflecting to Amo Houghton as an icon of civility, and went on to explain how he tries to balance all of the demands on his time.  No mention of his golf handicap, but, again, time ran out.

Finally, the deficit and national debt.  Kuhl thinks we need to balance the budget immediately, that Congress is "out of control", as is the President (I believe I wrote that down correctly). He points out that he voted for a debt reduction act that shaved $37 billion from some programs.  Massa's response got the only laugh of the day:  When someone told him that we're spending like a drunken sailor, he told them that at least drunken sailors stop spending when they run out of money.  He pointed out that budgets were balanced under a different administration (apparently we dare not speak its name), and that we need to "Just Say No" to spending increases.  He also noted that the national debt is really a tax on our children.

This was perhaps the most unsatisfying part of the debate, because nobody needs another lecture on how debt is bad and self-control is the issue.  But that's the way the Rotary, um, rotates, so we must move on.

Finally, and not one moment too soon, it was time for closing remarks.  Massa repeated the stay the course vs. change argument, and pointed very gently in the direction of l'affair Foley:  "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" and "headlines we don't want to explain to our children".  Nothing direct.  He got a round of applause from his supporters, who had packed the room. 

Kuhl said that he knew this was a Rotary event and didn't think he needed to bring a bunch of his supporters (in a very pleasant way, it looks worse in print).  He also said that he's not comfortable with confrontation, but that events like this are important.  In other words, Massa went a bit too far, tsk-tsk (pianissimo)

Then, for the first time of the day, he showed what a total minefield this election has become for a Republican incumbent.  He started listing accomplishments and mentioned the response to Katrina as one of them, which got a guffaw from the Massa supporters in the audience.  Kuhl pointed out the amount of money that Congress had appropriated, and how quickly it had been done, apparently oblivious that the real issue wasn't the money available, but how it was spent.  Overall, though, the theme of his summary was that he went to Washington to represent and to change things, not to make friends.  He's country, not DC.

All in all, a very gentlemanly affair.  I think Rotarians left with a broad idea of a few major disagreements between the two, but it wasn't a real debate.  TV cameras and reporters were present, but I'll bet that the sound bites that make the news tonight won't be from the debate.  Instead, we'll hear Massa and Kuhl answer questions on the Foley matter asked afterwards by reporters.


The Kuhl campaign has announced four debates, of which three have apparently been agreed to by the Massa Campaign:

  • "Debate 1" is in Canandaigua on October 5, sponsored by the Messenger-Post newspaper and the Canandaigua Rotary Club.
  • "Debate 2" is in Elmira on October 10, sponsored by WETM (a NBC affiliate in Elmira) and the Corning Leader.
  • The third debate is in Bath on October 11, and is sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
  • The fourth debate, which according to Kuhl hasn't been confirmed by the Massa Campaign, is on the WLEA radio station in Hornell.
  • (Update) The fifth debate is October 16 at 7:00 p.m. on RNews, the Rochester Time-Warner Cable news channel.
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