Delaware Debate Contentious, But Unlikely To Move The Polls

Last night's Delaware Senate debate was entertaining, but it's unlikely to move the polls very much.

I’ve already noted the humorous moment from last night’s debate between Chris Coons and Christine O’Donnell but the debate itself was entertaining in it’s own way:

NEWARK, Del. — Swallowing nervously, Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party favorite who is running for the Senate in Delaware, plunged into her first public debate Wednesday night with a jab at Chris Coons, her Democratic opponent, a former lawyer who is a county executive here.

“My opponent wants to go to Washington and rubber-stamp failed spending bills,” she said. “This is wrong. Uncle Sam needs to be cut off.”

Mr. Coons countered, saying that the county he runs, New Castle, the most populous in this small state, has a triple-A bond rating, a status that only 30 out of 3,000 American counties can boast. Then he delivered his own jab: “Ms. O’Donnell is not familiar with how bond ratings work.”

O’Donnell, meanwhile, hit back with a meme about Coons that has been popular on Fox News and talk radio:

When Mr. Blitzer delved into views Ms. O’Donnell had expressed in the past, she angrily shot back that she was not seeking media attention: “You’ve been asking me for an interview for a long time.”

Mr. Coons also said that the title of an essay he wrote in college, “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist,” was entirely tongue-in-cheek.

“If you take five minutes and read the article, it’s very clear that it’s a joke!” he said in an exasperated tone. “I am not now, and I have never been, anything but a clean-shaven capitalist!”

As I noted last month, the right-wing suggestion that Coons is a “Marxist”  — at least if one means by Marxism one who belives in and practices the ideas set forth in The Communist Manifesto — is simply nonsense. I was actually surprised at how forcefully O’Donnell pushed that meme last night considering that it clear hasn’t resonated with Delaware voters. Unlike other moments during the debate, it made her seem unhinged.

Coons made his own mistakes, however:

While Mr. Coons had broader range on issues and current events, he sometimes seemed mean-spirited. When Ms. O’Donnell asked whether a company he was connected to would benefit from the clean energy bill, he scoffed, “It was difficult for me to understand from her question what she was talking about.”

That could just serve to reinforce Ms. O’Donnell’s image, which has had deep resonance this election season — that of an ordinary person trying to bring common sense to Washington.

At several points during the debate Coons was clearly visibly frustrated with O”Donnell and he let that frustration come through a few times. While the frustration may have arguably been justified, it struck me as a mistake. Just as Joe Biden did with Sarah Palin during the Vice-Presidential debate, Coons would be better served to treat O’Donnell with respect, make his points, respond to hers, and let her speak for herself. Ganging up against someone who’s clearly at a disadvantage doesn’t look good and has the potential to make the voters sympathetic to your opponent. If Coons’s advisers are smart, they’ll try to get him to avoid that in their next debate this afternoon in Wilmington, or the final debate on Tuesday.

As with Presidential debates, though, the real question here is whether there will be any real impact on the race. Prior to the debate, four polls were released showing Coons leading by a range of 22 to 16 points. Nothing Christine O’Donnell, or Chris Coons, did last night seems likely to change that significantly.

Update: David Frum nails it:

Having watched Chris Coons’ dismissive and impatient performance, I can only marvel at how easy a race this would have been for the GOP if we had not nominated an obviously incompetent and unstable candidate. Coons was arrogant, impatient, dismissive: easily beatable even in a normal year, never mind a Republican wave year. Maybe we can get away with such malpractice in Nevada – we’ll see – but not in the Mid-Atlantic region. What a waste.

Indeed.

Of course, Coons probably would’ve acted different if faced with a different candidate, but it is eminently clear that the GOP has thrown Delaware away.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Having watched Chris Coons’ dismissive and impatient performance, ”

    Dear me Frum is upset because Coons rather obviously finds it hard to suffer fools gladly. Frum of course is a model of humility when faced with senselessness. Too funny. But like you Doug the problem with O’Donnell is not her idiocy it’s her unelectability. If a more astute candidate had been expressing essentially similar views it would have been no problemo for you and David.

  2. Yes Joe, I’m not a tax-and-spend Democrat.

    I realize you haven’t gotten over that yet, but it’s not going to change.

  3. Wayne says:

    Doug did you even watch the debate?

    O’Donnell was referring to statement Coons made 2 weeks ago about how great a Marxist professor influence his life.

    O’Donnell may not win but the one that is greatest hurt in this contest and many other contest this cycle are the liberal Republicans. If Romney or any liberal Republican wins in the future, don’t be asking conservatives to get behind them and support them. Liberal Republicans sure and hell haven’t gotten behind conservatives that have won their primaries. They have done just the opposite with attacking and undermining their general elections while being supportive of the Dem opponent.

    There has been many opportunities attack Coons including him denying he will benefit from cap and trade legislation. When confronted with how, he pretended he didn’t know he would but went into detail of the product in question and claiming the “current” sales in that area are very small. If he wasn’t aware of it how does he know that “current” sales in that area are very small or know details of the product in that area?

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 12:02
    Yes Joe, I’m not a tax-and-spend Democrat.

    Yeah Doug we know that you’re a spend and no tax Republican. Your philosophy with people like O’Donnell puts one in mind of that old rhyme:

    When the rockets go up,
    who cares where they come down.
    That’s not my department,
    said Werner von Braun.

  5. Davebo says:

    “Yes Joe, I’m not a tax-and-spend Democrat.”

    So, given the near doubling of the federal debt during the last administration we can assume you are a spend and borrow Republican?

  6. mantis says:

    Yes Joe, I’m not a tax-and-spend Democrat.

    No, you’re a cut taxes and spend even more Republican. Way to go!

  7. Joe,

    Yawn, again.

    You’re just like the Republicans I run into. Just because I’m not a Democrat your binary brain automatically puts me in the “Republican” box.

    Well, I’m not a tax and borrow Republican, I’m a “spend-much-less and tax as little as possible” libertarian. But, you know, you’ll probably just call me a nihilist again. Whatever.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 13:34

    “Yawn, again.”

    As a rationalist I’m always fascinated by irrationality in obviously intelligent people. I don’t know why because I was educated by Jesuits for a while. I’d be quite happy to vote against nutty or sleazy Democrats (Sharpton, that crazy black guy in the south, Rangel, that crazy black woman congressman, come to mind) but for you the issue isn’t their nuttiness it’s their unelectability. This is perplexing.

  9. but for you the issue isn’t their nuttiness it’s their unelectability. This is perplexing.

    My rejection of O’Donnell is based on the fact that she is nutty and unqualified. Anyone who’s been paying attention to what I’ve written would know that.

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 14:07
    but for you the issue isn’t their nuttiness it’s their unelectability. This is perplexing.

    “My rejection of O’Donnell is based on the fact that she is nutty and unqualified.”

    But as you concede above you wouldn’t be unhappy if she was elected. This is what is perplexing.

  11. Joe,

    Where in the name of god do you think I said that ?

  12. Brummagem Joe says:

    Where in the name of god do you think I said that ?

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 12:02
    Yes Joe, I’m not a tax-and-spend Democrat.

    ???? It’s also implicit in much of your commentary about these nutballs. In many ways Toomey’s views aren’t very different than O’Donnell’s (although he hasn’t dabbled in withcraft as far as I know) but you have no problem with him because he’s obviously intelligent enough to keep the extremism under wraps.

  13. Joe

    Your criticism only makes sense if one accepts the implied premise that all advocates of limited and small government are “nutty.”

    Since I don’t accept that premise, I don’t know what else to say.

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Your criticism only makes sense if one accepts the implied premise that all advocates of limited and small government are “nutty.”

    Well obviously you don’t consider Toomey’s desire to shut down Medicare and totally privatize SS as nutty but I think there would be a consensus that it is.

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Your criticism only makes sense if one accepts the implied premise that all advocates of limited and small government are “nutty.”

    As an addendum to the above I’d add that it is a denial of the nature of the world we live in. Combined federal and state budgets total around $4.5 trillion which is several times larger than govt spending in any sovereign state in the world. The idea that this is ever going to be seriously reduced in size is seriously nutty because quite apart from social issues most of corporate America is deeply invested in it. In the face of this reality blathering about “small govt” is rather silly. There are serious problems in containing and managing Leviathan I agree but denying its continuing existence makes no sense.

  16. steve says:

    I thought that Fallows had a good point about her being a professional talk show guest. She has developed the ability to talk confidently even when she hasnt a clue about the topic. She is probably a better candidate than Coons thinks. If people read the debate, she will look awful. Listening to the debate, she will do much better.

    Steve

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    “If people read the debate, she will look awful. Listening to the debate, she will do much better.”

    A bit like Wagner’s music you mean? It’s better than it sounds.

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 14:31
    “Since I don’t accept that premise, I don’t know what else to say”

    Needless to say Doug rapidly disappears when there’s the slightest chance he might have to defend the contradictions in his philosophy.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    “Well, I’m not a tax and borrow Republican, I’m a ‘spend-much-less and tax as little as possible’ libertarian.”

    Oh, a species that will never gain any political power…

  20. jwest says:

    For those not attuned to politics, let me explain what happened at the O’Donnell and Angle debates.

    Both Coons and Reid have been polling below 50%. These are two highly unlikeable candidates, but both were depending on voter finding their opponents unacceptable. Voters in Delaware and Nevada have been told by the media for weeks that O’Donnell and Angle were both stupid and crazy. The bar was set at a level so low by the over-the-top rhetoric of their detractors that all either of them had to do was show a reasonable grasp of the issues and not foam at the mouth.

    Both O’Donnell and Angle passed the test with flying colors. On top of assuring voters that they were rational, intelligent people, both are poised to receive the benefit of a backlash against Coons and Reid (along with the MSM) by women, who instinctively know when they are being condescendingly dismissed by innuendo.

    The timing of these debates could not have been worse for the democrats. With two weeks to go, and both races in the limelight of the national news, polling will be quick to show the addition of voters who found O’Donnell and Angle acceptable. This will show up as a last-minute surge and encourage the talking point in the media that all the momentum is behind the republicans.

  21. Both Coons and Reid have been polling below 50%

    Wrong.

    The only poll that showed Coons below 50% was when Rasmussen polled a hypothetical three-way race with Mike Castle running as an independent. Even then Coons was beating O’Donnell 49% to 40%.

    Coons is polling between 57 and 53 percent and has a margin over O”Donnell ranging from a low of 16 point to a high of 21 points:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2010/senate/de/delaware_senate_oadonnell_vs_coons-1670.html

  22. jwest says:

    The actual numbers that show Coons support are the pre-primary results when Castle was the presumptive nominee. That is his base (about 36%).

    Watch what happens in the polls as women in Delaware judge who has been lying to them on the subject of O’Donnell. Because of the condescension and ridicule heaped on her, supporters will drag themselves through broken glass to vote. Coons doesn’t inspire enthusiasm and now that O’Donnell has shown her viability, the incentive to vote against her has diminished.

    This will be one of those upset victories that “no one could have predicted”.

  23. Jwest,

    No, you’re wrong again.

    All the polls in the link I provided are from the last two weeks. Yes, they are pre-debate

    However, if you think that O’Donnell’s performance in that debate is going to make up a 20 point deficit in the polls, then you must also believe in unicorns.

    She’s going to lose. Bank on it.

  24. jwest says:

    Doug,

    Maybe in any other year you might be right, but not this time.

    Midterms are tricky races to predict. First off, the universe of voters is far smaller than in a presidential year, which pollsters always caution as being the reason wide fluctuations occur. 60% to 70% of the people in Delaware either don’t know there is an election or don’t care to vote in it. Optimistically, 40% will cast a ballot on Nov. 2nd.

    The different weighting models used by various pollsters all rely heavily on averaged turnout numbers, giving the latest few elections the most value. Normally, this projects a relatively good picture of the size and mix of the voters who will show up, but this method has a fatal flaw. During wave elections, it fails to project the intensity of wave.

    This midterm is a once-in-a-lifetime back to back wave. Pollsters are taking numbers modeled on one wave and are applying them to an equal powerful but opposite wave. Watch the polls next week as O’Donnell trends up. The rise will seem disproportional and too rapid to be correct, and she will probably go into election day 5 to 7 points down, but come out a winner.

  25. jwest,

    This is Delaware. Coons will win.

    And your predictions of this being a “wave” election are premature at best. Right now, the GOP stands to win 45-55 seats in the House and 7-8 Senate seats. That’s a big victory, but it’s not a wave.

    Once again. O’Donnell will lose in Delaware, just like Alvin Greene will lose in South Carolina

  26. jwest says:

    Doug,

    A 45-55 seat win is the least likely outcome.

    Either the democrats will hold the house by 1 or 2 seats or the republicans will enjoy a 90+ seat blowout. The 50 seat scenario comes from the very inaccuracies of weighting with averaged data that skews the polls so badly now.

    You probably thought Alvin Greene wasn’t going to win his primary, didn’t you?