Win, lose or draw: Debate commentary by Lazarick, Vatz, Eberly, Raettig, Griffith

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The debate studio at Maryland Public TV with Ben Jealous and Larry Hogan at their podiums. Larry Canner photo for MPT

Here are comments on Monday’s debate from a variety of sources, including MarylandReporter.com’s editor Len Lazarick, rhetoric professor Rick Vatz, political science professor Todd Eberly, Karla Raettig of Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Johnny Miller of Lothian, Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland and Gail Weiss of Bethesda. We published every comment that arrived by 10:30 p.m. and more will be added as they come in.

 A Draw: Vision versus stay the course

By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

It was a remarkably feisty debate between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous on Monday at Maryland Public TV.

Both candidates were aggressive in attacking each other, whether on Hogan’s record or Jealous’s proposals.

The candidates also chose to disregard the rules they both had agreed to. Hogan started it by interrupting Jealous as he responded to the first question.

Who won the debate? That is a false standard. Viewers bring their own biases and formed opinions to the debate. Did the debate change anyone’s mind about the candidates? I think not. According to the recent Goucher poll, only 9% are undecided, only 26% might consider changing their minds.

If you already thought Jealous would make a good governor, you would say he carried himself well, forthrightly defending his vision for major change, even expensive change, and criticizing the Hogan record. If you already believe Hogan was doing a good job, the governor did little to have you think differently, except maybe to notice he can get a little testy at times. But compared to Jealous’s clear anger on some issues, Hogan was cool, calm and collected.

If you came away thinking they both came off like those opposing talking heads on cable TV, with each talking over the other, disputing facts and figures — then you would be right too.

Charges of lying, inaccuracy

Jealous has “a vision,” as he repeatedly said, with new programs such as Medicare for all and legalizing marijuana to help pay for education. For Hogan, the incumbent said, “we have done exactly what we said we would do,” with emphasis on cutting taxes and making the state more business friendly.

Both questioned the other’s veracity. “Not a single word he said was true,” Hogan interrupted as Jealous questioned his job numbers and economic performance.

“The governor is lying again,” Jealous said when Hogan accused him of just having moved from California. The governor backed off a bit, recognizing Jealous’s life story as the son of a white father and black mother who couldn’t live in Baltimore because a mixed-race marriage was against the law. But Hogan showed he knew where Jealous lived when he headed the NAACP and how seldom he had voted in Maryland.

Jealous repeatedly tried to tie Hogan to President Donald Trump, a charge which Democrats have sought to revive in recent days after it fell flat last year. Hogan pointed out all the ways he had stood up to Trump and Washington politics.

“You lie and try to scare people,” Jealous said after Hogan accused him of wanting to release thousands of murderers and rapists.

Jealous may be wrong, as we’ve written, about the money it would save if the state reduced the prison population and did better a job of educating, training and counseling non-violent inmates. But his plan to eliminate mass incarceration in Maryland prisons is not radically different from the Justice Reinvestment Act Hogan actively supported and signed in 2017. Neither candidate would admit that.

There were numerous factual inaccuracies on both sides, some small, some big.

In closing, Jealous said, “We can do much better.” Hogan, taking a calmer conciliatory tone after an hour of bickering, said he had shown that he could govern without the divisiveness of Washington politics, which was pretty evident in the debate. “I think we’re setting an example for the nation.”

On second thought

After I wrote this in the afternoon, I watched the debate again the way most voters would — at home, in their usual TV-watching chairs and couches. What struck me this time was how angry Jealous seemed at times, and how calmly Hogan responded with explanations, even though he was clearly annoyed on occasion. The split screens MPT used to show the two reinforced this. (Gov. Hogan’s podium was a good distance from Jealous across the studio. Hogan is 5 foot 7; Jealous is an imposing 6 foot 3.)

What we learned 58 years ago in the first presidential debates, is that visuals count. Hogan won the visual debate.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Ben Jealous at Monday’s debate. Larry Canner photo for Maryland Public Television.

 Hogan clearly wins on points

By Richard E. Vatz

Towson University 

First, some of the strengths of the debate format:  the moderator, Jeff Salkin, who has a rare lifetime reputation for fairness, and the questioners were utterly unbiased, and none of them put his or her finger on the scale in favor of either candidate.

Both candidates consistently interrupted each other but were chastised equally by the moderator.  No questioners tried to become the star of the debate – good judgment.

To have only one debate makes the debate both relatively significant, since it is the only direct clash between the candidates, and independently not very significant, since one hour between an incumbent and a challenger is barely enough time to allow the challenger to introduce himself.

Gubernatorial debates between incumbents and challengers are about one general issue:  has the governor not done his job well, such that the incumbent can raise issues that he/she would correct.

The major issues comprised, among others, support for education, the Maryland economy, reduction of the incarcerated criminal population, and the tenor of the debate itself.  Regarding the last, Hogan claimed that Jealous was not a life-long or even a very recent Marylander, to which Jealous said that Hogan was a “liar,” and that he, Jealous, had not long been a Marylander because his parents were unable to legally marry in Maryland.

Jealous strangely brought up the allegation that the Republicans typically reference Willie Horton, whom Hogan said he did not bring up.  Horton was part of a 30-year-old campaign ad by Vice President George H.W. Bush against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis regarding irresponsible prison furlough programs which set Horton free to murder.

Jealous also tried to tie Hogan to Betsy DeVos, which connection Hogan called innocuous, and claimed after the debate that Hogan refused for “five minutes” to answer what his plans were to help Maryland, but each time Hogan tried to specifically address that question, Jealous talked over him.  In addition he listed innumerable programs he had effected for Maryland.

Jealous never specified how reducing the criminal population would lead to a safer Baltimore or Maryland.

Jealous claimed that Hogan presided over a state that had failed in education, transportation, health care, violence in schools and in the state in general.  Hogan detailed expenditures in all of these areas and gave an opposite accounting of how successful Maryland has been.  Hogan also saw the Red Line as a boondoggle and cited agreement from the progressive Washington Post.

It was a bit strange for Jealous to blame the governor for the violence and killing fields of Maryland and Baltimore without mentioning Baltimore’s Mayor Catherine Pugh, but there was a certain component of rhetorical wild swings and missed haymakers by the challenger.

Both men seemed confident and aggressive, but if one evaluates a gubernatorial debate the way one evaluates heavyweight boxing championships, with a presumption for the incumbent, Hogan clearly took this one on points.

*Vatz is a professor at Towson University and is the benefactor of the “Richard E. Vatz Best Debater Award.”

Ben Jealous and Larry Hogan shake hands. Larry Canner photo for MPT

Debate was a draw, but it stopped the bleeding for Jealous

By Todd Eberly

St. Mary’s College

Four years ago, Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown met for a series of debates in mid-October at a point in campaign where polls showed that the race was tightening as Hogan closed the gap with Brown. Hogan’s goal in that debate was clear – he needed to close the deal and convince voters, the majority of whom had tired of Martin O’Malley, that they could trust a Republican to lead the state. Hogan accomplished his goal and won the election.

Hogan and Ben Jealous met for the only debate of 2018 with a very different election outlook. Jealous trails Hogan by 22 points according to the most recent poll and the gap between Hogan and Jealous is growing. At this point in the election, Jealous doesn’t need to close the deal — he needs to stop the bleeding.

The exchanges between Hogan and Jealous were testy from the start. Jealous never missed an opportunity to try and link Hogan to Donald Trump and Hogan took every opportunity to remind voters that Jealous has proposed expansive plans with no clear way to pay for them.

In a particularly testy exchange, Jealous repeatedly accused Hogan of trying to scare voters by using a playbook of Donald Trump and Willie Horton (a reference to an ad from the 1988 presidential contest between George Bush and Michael Dukakis). The reference to Willie Horton seemed forced, but the recent Goucher Poll showed Hogan receiving the support of 35% of African American voters and the comment played like an effort to tamp down that support.

Hogan countered Jealous’ repeated efforts to link him to Donald Trump by repeatedly referencing bipartisan deals that he has reached with the General Assembly.

In their closing arguments, Jealous promised a Maryland where it was easier for voter’s children to reach the American dream. Under Hogan, Jealous argues that schools are losing ground, job growth is failing, and health care costs are rising. Then he reiterated his pledge to use casino money for schools, bring universal health care, and reduce the prison population.

Hogan reminded voters of his pledge to usher in bipartisanship in Maryland and to end extreme partisanship. Hogan offered Maryland as an example to the nation. On closing statements, each candidate offered a vision of Maryland. Jealous portrayed a Maryland moving in the wrong direction and in need of new leadership. Hogan argued that Maryland was moving in the right direction and asked for four more years.

The recent Goucher Poll found that most Marylanders believe that Maryland is headed in the right direction and they feel that they are better off than they were four years ago. In order to win, Jealous needs to convince voters that they are wrong about Maryland. Hogan, on the other hand, needs to convince voters that they are right. That’s a far easier task.

Overall, the debate was a draw. I argued that Jealous needed to stop the bleeding in his campaign. I believe he did that.

But I didn’t see or hear anything that was likely to alter the overall trajectory of the race. A majority of Marylanders believe that the state is heading in the right direction and two-thirds approve of the job that Hogan is doing. It would take more than a single debate to change those perceptions. The best hope for the Jealous campaign is that his debate performance will result in better fundraising numbers so that it can afford to counter the advertising barrage financed by the Republican Governors Association and the Hogan Campaign.

Todd Eberly is an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Democracy Studies Coordinator

No mention of climate change

By Karla Raettig

Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

A healthy debate is needed for democracy to thrive and it was very informative to see both candidates for governor on the same stage discussing issues that are important to all Marylanders.

We are grateful to Pam Wood for asking about the importance of Red Line and other mass transit projects. Supporting mass transit is important for any community, and especially urbanized communities like the Baltimore Metropolitan area and essential for good, smart growth policy.

However, we are disappointed that the moderators of the debate chose not to ask the candidates about their views on climate change. A very real threat that is imminent to our coast with unstable and unpredictable weather patterns.

We need a leader in the governor’s mansion that can take decisive action and lead our state in the renewable energy economy and protect future generations of all Marylanders.

Karla Raettig is executive is executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters

Hogan was on his game and Jealous is running out of time

By Johnny Miller

Lothian, Md.

Governor Hogan was on his game. He came prepared to aggressively defend his record, which was particularly effective in his rebuttals using specific economic figures that reflected the strength of Maryland’s economy.

Ben Jealous didn’t do bad, but he just didn’t do enough to stand out. His attacks regarding the budget and education were effectively parried by the governor by highlighting Mr. Jealous’ misunderstandings of how the budget process and education policy work, further painting him as a Maryland outsider.

Also, I might be revealing my age, but I had to look up who Willie Horton was. That particular attack line by Mr. Jealous seemed random and awkward (and he repeated it at least four times).

Recognizing my bias (I support Governor Hogan), I wouldn’t call this a decisive win for either candidate. But if Mr. Jealous expects to overcome the governor’s 22-point lead in the polls, he’s got a lot more work to do, and he is running out of time.

Jealous needed a homer; he didn’t get it

By Brian Griffiths

Editor-in-Chief, Red Maryland.com:

Ben Jealous needed to hit a home run at Monday night’s debate. He didn’t do it.

Jealous, to his credit, did have a much stronger debate performance tonight than any debate he had during the Democratic primary. However, that doesn’t mean Jealous had a good performance by any stretch of the imagination.

It seems as if Jealous thought he was still running in a Democratic primary, acting sanctimonious and using the same tired shtick of Democratic falsehoods that have been disproven time and time again. Jealous made no attempt to try to reach out to undecided voters and certainly made no attempt to try to bring moderate Democrats home.

Jealous and his insistence on talking over both Gov. Hogan and moderator Jeff Salkin didn’t help matters much either. Being both sanctimonious and disrespectful at the same time does not appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.

Gov. Hogan had a solid if not spectacular performance, and he was able to easily dispatch the more off-the-wall accusations and ideas Jealous threw at him.

The one thing that was most obvious during this debate was the fact that taping a debate eight-hours in advance gives campaigns plenty of time to spin the debate before it starts. That debate spin prior to its airing implied that Ben Jealous had a better debate than he did.

Ultimately, this debate will not move anybody toward Ben Jealous and ultimately may have hurt him with the moderate voters he desperately needs to help his campaign stay afloat.

Jealous stiff, nervous and angry; Hogan solid, positive and mature

By Gail Weiss

Bethesda

Ben Jealous seemed stiff, nervous and somewhat angry and didn’t convey a sense of feeling in command of himself, nor entirely confident of the facts.

In contrast, Governor Hogan steadfastly maintained his composure, even when strongly and pointedly refuting what he clearly felt were falsehoods or at least mis-statements of facts from Ben Jealous.

Hogan went on the offensive every time he seemed to feel the need to do so, but he did it with a calm, level voice and an almost bemused expression on his face. It was a great relief to see a politician be able to disagree without being disagreeable, in today’s toxic political climate!

Ben Jealous tried repeatedly and in vain to tie Hogan to Trump, “Willie Horton” (who most viewers probably don’t even remember) and to the Republican Party, presuming that would be a negative (which ironically had an increase in favorability in a Pew poll just out today). It only made Jealous look petty, shrill and desperate.

In sum, Gov. Hogan came off as the positive, solid and mature chief executive that he is, while Ben Jealous came off as being out of his league.

Disrespecting the governor

By Ella Ennis

Calvert County

I thought the moderator was deliberately disrespectful of the Governor.  He introduced him as Mr. Hogan.

He is the sitting Governor.  He should have been introduced and addressed as Governor Hogan.

I thought Ben Jealous was undisciplined by talking past the allotted time and continuingly interrupting when it was the Governor’s turn.

The governor was straight forward and presented his facts on jobs and education, transportation and the Bay.

I am opposed to the legalization of marijuana.  Do we not have enough drug addiction and deaths? Encouraging people to get high so you can raise more revenue for more government spending is not wise.  Maryland does not have to go this route.  We need more accountability for the dollars spent not legalizing pot.

My vote will go to Governor Hogan.