Who won the debate? Gansler, Brown, Mizeur, the station, nobody, say a dozen reactions

Who won the debate? Gansler, Brown, Mizeur, the station, nobody, say a dozen reactions

We asked reporters, professors, advocates and regular readers to react to last night’s televised debate between Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur on NBC4 and Maryland Public Television. A dozen submitted comments by 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Debate stage

NBC’s David Gregory, far right, moderated the debate.

What’s nice about this reaction format is that unlike a traditional debate story, we don’t have to come up with a story line.

Each candidate was declared the winner by one observer or another, but some said they all were losers, including the voters. You’re welcome to leave more comments since that function is working again.

Len Lazarick, editor, MarylandReporter.com:

Anthony Brown: The lieutenant governor’s job was not to screw up. He didn’t; job done. Brown came across as more energetic and forceful than his image as Martin O’Malley’s trusty sidekick standing at attention. He took the attack to Gansler, whom he called “Doug.” Best line: “I don’t see the need in the foreseeable future to raise taxes in Maryland.”

Mizeur: Her job: come across as looking like a credible governor. She achieved that, whether her resume supports it. Plus, she stayed above the back and forth between Gansler and Brown. “I don’t think it’s about this personal bickering and attacks,” she said. Then, after making a lot of big promises on programs, such as universal pre-kindergarten, she laid out the spending cuts and tax hikes to pay for them. “These are my priorities and how I will pay for them.” You can question whether they are realistic numbers, but she at least talked about dollars.

Gansler: He needed to undermine Brown, but did little more than he already done. He wound up having to defend himself in response to questions, especially when NBC4 reporter Chris Gordon brought up the damaging stories from the fall. Overall, makes a good case for himself as a prosecutor, and emphasizing he grew up in Maryland and Montgomery County. He seemed to be channeling Republican Larry Hogan on tax hikes and jobs.

Ben Rosenberg:

Hard to say what is more insipid or dispiriting – the candidates or the questions from the reporters.

Blaine Taylor, writer and congressional candidate:

Heather Mizeur debateIt played out as I thought it would, and I rank the winners in this order: Mizeur, Brown, Gansler. All three did well in expressing themselves. We voters learned a lot if we listened. Regarding losing items, Brown can’t get beyond the health care rollout disaster cost, nor can Gansler get past the underage drinking issue and his abuse of power relative to his conduct in office with his official vehicles. Thus, I believe Mizeur won on all points. Going in, I was going to vote for her anyway, and now I have many more reasons to do so. Only Brown mentioned his running mate, and that, too, deserves mention. Maryland is fortunate to have these three people running for Governor.

Richard Vatz, professor, Towson University: Gansler for the Win

If this had been a three-way boxing match, I would say it was a knockout by Attorney General Gansler over Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur.

Gansler was the most substantive, supporting his position on tax reform by citing chapter and verse — as he did on issue after issue — on the consequences of over-taxation of Marylanders.  Brown said simply that we didn’t need more taxes going forward, but did not specifically defend his administration’s taxes or budget priorities, nor was he overly specific — and never comprehensive — on what his administration had accomplished in Maryland.

Mizeur honestly articulated her progressive policies without much empirical support and said and repeated that the candidates should not cast blame, which, if followed, would make debates insipid, worthless, and non-substantive clashes.

Brown came across as an attractive and intelligent man, but as a candidate he appeared far less prepared than Gansler.  He  did not discuss with any particularity most of his defenses of his administration and on the tax issued promised a blue ribbon panel to muddle through and dissect the issues at some future date.  How Maryland-typical dithering a proposal.

The debate lacked any discussion of the causes of murders and other violent crime in the state, such as the tremendous growth and ideological support of unmarried mothers and fatherless children.

Brown supported the end of capital punishment with nary a qualification nor dissent.

There was little discussion of the disproportionate small business taxation, and Mizeur referred several times to how a new millionaires’ tax would have a salutary effect without defining what that effect would be.

Progressively biased, but within that framework a clear victory for Attorney General Gansler.

Todd Eberly, professor, St. Mary’s College of Md.: And the winner is…. Doug Gansler.

Gansler debateDoug Gansler was the clear winner in the first televised Democratic gubernatorial debate – though that was not so evident during the opening minutes. Gansler’s opening statement seemed to be little more that boilerplate sloganeering and then he got off to a slow start on the first question concerning MD’s failed health exchange.

Gansler needs to walk a fine line on the exchange – he can’t be seen as criticizing the Affordable Care Act, but he needs to criticize its failed implementation in MD. He found that fine line tonight. The 2014 midterms are shaping up to be bad news for Democrats nationally owing to ongoing unpopularity of health reform, Gansler essentially accused Brown of handing the GOP a path to victory by botching the implementation.

On the second question, concerning marijuana legalization, Mizeur offered the best direct response, but it was Brown’s misstep that stood out. Brown’s pivot away from marijuana decriminalization and attempt to paint Gansler as hostile to the rights of racial minorities owing to his support of the death penalty came across as simultaneously low and an overreach. On the question of taxes, Brown promised a Blue Ribbon Panel and attacked Gansler’s support of a corporate tax rate cut. Gansler swung right back, reminding voters that the O’Malley/Brown team have presided over numerous tax increases and that leading Democrats in the state – including Steny Hoyer – support lowering the corporate tax rate.

Heather Mizeur started out strong, but them seemed to fade into the background – almost entirely because the moderator, David Gregory, did such a bad job moderating. Gregory turned the debate into the Gansler/Brown point/counterpoint show. I think being constantly excluded from exchanges threw Mizeur off of her game.

Her strongest moment was the discussion of qualifications and her work to pass bipartisan family planning legislation. She helped her campaign, but the impact of the debate will be muted because of Gregory’s failure as a moderator. Mizeur very effectively reminded voters of the gender wage gap in America. Gregory seemed to think that since women earn on average 15% less than men that Mizeur should receive 15% less debate time than either Gansler or Brown. Let’s close that gap next time.

Brown stumbled right out of the gate. He started with a very strong bit about his family biography that never really led into a policy discussion or governing philosophy. Most of the evening he seemed more interested in getting in clearly rehearsed attacks on Gansler (the death penalty, the beach party, the reprimand) than in discussing his plans for the state. In his closing statement he promised, “I have a plan,” and all I could think was, then why didn’t you discuss it?

I think the worst moment of the debate was Brown’s very clumsy pivot to the death penalty and racial bias in response to the marijuana legalization question. Was he really trying to insinuate that Gansler was hostile to issues of racial bias in the justice system? It was a bad moment in a bad night for Brown. But there were no lethal blows either received or self-inflicted.

In all, I see no game changing moment, though Gansler certainly helped his cause Brown’s weak performance wasn’t deadly and Mizeur was denied the breakout moment that she needs. Brown needs to do much better at the second debate. Mizeur needs to make sure no other moderator shuts her out the way Gregory did. Gansler needs to be ready for a much better prepared Brown.

Stefanie Weldon:

My biggest takeaway is that AG Gansler supports public schools that he attended in elementary school but didn’t want to admit  the fact that he did not choose to send his own kids to MCPS schools-I guess not good enough–although the prep school he chose for his son has NEVER had a reputation for high academics while his home public high school is one of the top ones in the country.  Can we trust him to really believe in improving schools?

Dan Brawdy:

Losers: The Viewers. Seriously, these are the candidates? They need to spend time on debate prep and less on Twitter. They stumbled over what should have been easy stuff, like their close.

Attorney General Doug Gansler, Del. Heather Mizeur, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown debate

Attorney General Doug Gansler, Del. Heather Mizeur, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown debate

The Winners: Commercial breaks? Somebody paid good money to run commercials? The station and network won that one.

Brown: I’ve got a plan, it’s different from O’Malley on the bad stuff, just like O’Malley on the good stuff, but you have to elect me to find out.

Mizeur: The only adult in the room. A clear plan to raise taxes and spend lot of money, but pot will be legal so no one will care.

Gansler: Best one-liners and comebacks of the night. Has a plan, may even be a good one, but electing him is a little like putting a brainy 18-year-old in charge: Will the instinct to party take over?

Jessica Cooper, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB):

Three candidates for the Democratic nomination for Governor met this evening for what should have been a conversation heavy on economics and in the end there was really no highlights for small business owners.

Maryland is ranked poorly as a place to do business and small business is the key to our prosperity. The candidates this evening spent almost as much time debating the name of the Redskins as they did the economy and we think that’s disappointing.

The candidates were asked early on about their plans to make Maryland more competitive. Lt. Gov. Brown said he’d create a special commission to study regulations and taxes. Attorney General Gansler suggested targeted tax cuts for favored companies, like high tech firms. And Heather Mizeur proposed resurrecting the millionaire’s tax to give a tax cut to small businesses.

The Gallup organization released a survey last week showing that almost half of Marylanders would leave if they could and a plurality of those people are looking for better economic opportunities. Based on what we heard this evening, none of the candidates appear to appreciate the depth of our problem.”

We heard some talk of corporate tax cuts and targeted tax cuts for high-tech firms, and with all due respect I think they miss the mark. Most small businesses pay income taxes, not corporate taxes, and most aren’t in the high-tech sector. We need broad tax reform to create more opportunities for people to start their own businesses and create more jobs.

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, MarylandReporter.com:

The debate this evening can be summarized succinctly, as there’s not too many meaty arguments to sink your teeth into. A generous amount of time was spent on mudslinging between Doug Gansler and Anthony Brown, a common observation from social media devotees. Heather Mizeur’s eyes volleyed back and forth during the boys’ verbal tennis match — about Gansler’s tax plan and Brown’s involvement in the botched health care exchange, about Gansler’s parenting style, and Brown’s empty promises. But unfortunately this bickering, as Mizeur put it, left little time for her to share some of her views, though she did come across as the most mature candidate. The whole tone of the discussion seemed clipped, beginning and ending and shifting to commercial break without warning or giving the audience time to digest.

The closing statements really reinforced the shallowness of the debate as more of a forum centered on talking points. Though all three Democratic frontrunners addressed the camera directly, none truly imparted an impressive message. Gansler’s especially seemed weak. Perhaps the debate will inspire some of the undecided voters — a large swath of Marylanders, as revealed by various polls — to investigate the candidates a little further.

Dennis McIver:

Anthony Brown offered the least information in this debate. As the front runner I’m sure he didn’t feel compelled to say much either as it would do more harm than good. Throughout the debate, Brown referred to having “a plan” for a number of problems befalling the state. But as a candidate who has few responsibilities as lieutenant governor and a questionable leadership record otherwise (Healthcare Exchange, anyone?), I don’t believe he has earned the trust he assumes he has.

Brown debate

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Unfortunately, Doug Gansler appeared to be ill prepared for the debate, alternating between stammering and rushing throughout the discussions and persistently arguing with Brown. At some points – for instance when he gave a sarcastic response to Brown on the Delaware Beach House incident – he came across as defensive and rude. However, he did make a point that resonates with many voters noting how many taxes have been increased in the past seven years. As the recent Gallup poll indicates this is a key issue for many who live here.

Heather Mizeur was effective in her presentation and emerged as the grown up in the room. While Brown and Gansler continually bickered Mizeur refused to enter the fray, instead staying on message. And while it appeared David Gregory didn’t give her enough time she did make good use of each second he had, discussing her plans for marijuana legalization, a living wage, and improving the economic climate for most Maryland residents. Although her proposals certainly place her to the left of either of the other candidates I believe she did a good job of depicting herself as someone solutions oriented and willing to work with others.

Overall, I would say Mizeur won this debate.

Glynis Kazanjian, MarylandReporter.com:

The fast paced, pull-no-punches debate format which gave Democratic candidates for governor only one minute to respond to each question, allowed little time for bluster but gave enough time for voters to get a real sense of the candidates.

Despite verbal gaffes the Attorney General has been known for in this race, Gansler’s 22 years of public service defined him as the most experienced and well-rounded Democratic candidate among the three.  Mizeur came across as a true advocate for women, children and working families, but often fell between two men who obviously felt they were going toe-to-toe.  And Brown probably finished last, which explains his campaign’s efforts to minimize the number of debates he participates in.

That doesn’t mean Brown cares any less than Mizeur or Gansler about the citizens of Maryland, but there are disadvantages to laying low and staying in the shadow of a dynamic leader for two consecutive terms.

Katherine from Silver Spring:

Prior to this evening, I was leaning towards Lt. Gov. Brown however, I found his debate performance lackluster and this has caused me to rethink my support. I would have a hard time giving him my vote if the election were held tomorrow.

Brown seemed empty. His responses fell flat to me. He attacked Gansler aggressively, but lacked any substantive, innovative solutions.

– Heather Mizeur was the biggest surprise of the night for me. I knew little about her before tonight. I appreciated her taking the high road. A brilliant strategy to say she was not about assigning blame (regarding the health care registration fiasco), but about fixing the problem. I thought she (repeatedly) made the other two candidates look petty and cut from the typical politician cloth. I thought her responses were consistently on point to the questions asked and that she offered more detail than her male counterparts.

Unfortunately, she lost me when she talked about her position on legalizing pot. As much as I applaud and admire her stance and record on women’s issues (women’s reproductive health issues are atop my political priorities), I do not think I could vote for someone who wants to legalize marijuana. Either the other two candidates didn’t have any dirt on her or they don’t consider her a serious contender as they seemed to be more focused on attacking each other. Again, staying above (or out) of their fray was something that worked for me. She seemed focused and ready to act…a fresh new gubernatorial approach.

– Doug Gansler is shifty. His attendance at a party were there could have been underage drinking is a BIG problem for me. I found his answers to questions regarding the incident to be evasive. Though he’d like to appear to be MoCo’s Everyman, he lives in the richest part of the county and his children attend/attended a private school. I don’t believe he has much in common with most County residents. He was quick to name drop and promote his pedigree (attendance at Yale and his son also attending an Ivy League). This did not raise my opinion of him. In fact, given his attacking tone (right from the get go) and his pedigree, he seemed to be the same old, same old just in a different suit. Yawn.

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

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