As those of you who regularly read my irregular updates to this blog know, I’m a regular contribute to Bazooka Magazine, the local alternative newspaper here in western Kentucky. After a year and some change, it looks like we’ve finally convinced a few people that we’re legit, because Bella (Bazooka’s owner/editor/publisher) managed to snag some spots with the other press people up on the balcony for yesterday’s debates. Since I'm kind of the politics guy, she asked me to come along . So I got the morning off work, woke up even earlier than usual, borrowed the company laptop (one of the fringe benefits of being the IT guy), and, really wishing I’d bought those Spider Jerusalem glasses when I had the chance, headed for the Carson Center prepared to do some journalism. Or, more accurately, to make snarky comments about the debate on Bella’s Facebook page (you can read them here).
After what seemed like days of Paducah’s high and mighty congratulating one another and some whining about regulations from some dude from Paducah Bank (one of the sponsors of the debates), the first debate started. This one was between Independent Bob Leeper (incumbent) and Democrat Rex Smith, candidates for the District 2 (Ballard, McCracken, and Marshall counties) Kentucky State Senate seat. Republican candidate Mike East did not attend. I haven’t been following this race especially closely, but I don’t think I’ve missed a lot. The candidates' answers to most questions were nearly identical, and in both cases very conservative. Based on a quick look at his website, I gather that the GOP candidate may be a little farther to the right, but not by a whole lot. None of these candidates represent me and I can’t imagine that it will make much difference which one of them wins, so I can’t even bring myself to fall back on my “vote against the incumbent” rule here. This section of my ballot will remain blank or get a smart-ass write-in.
Once The Amazing Right-Leaning Moderate Twins had finished their act, it was time for the main event: Senate candidates Jack Conway and Rand Paul. Before the first question was asked, Conway was way ahead in the non-verbal department, and not just because of his apparently sexy, sexy eyes (though Bella may disagree). As they took the stage, Conway seemed confident but relaxed, giving the impression that he was ready for any question the moderators threw at him. Paul, on the other hand, was nervous-looking and fidgety, like he could make a run for it at any minute. The difference could come down to the fact that Conway is just more comfortable speaking in public, but Paul’s body language didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Or maybe I’ve just watched too much Lie To Me in the past week.
The questions and answers were all things we’ve heard before, though in some cases Rand Paul’s answers have changed (sometime several times) since the primaries. You can watch the debate yourself for all the details. Paul didn’t do anything to surprise me, but Conway’s general attitude throughout the debate (and in some cases the contrast between between the two candidates) impressed me. Specifically:
* Throughout the debate, Conway very subtly (I don’t think he ever came right out and said it) made it clear that he is a native Kentuckian and Rand Paul is not. He answered a lot of general policy questions in terms of how they specifically affect Kentuckians, name-dropped a few local officials, and generally showed that he knows what’s going on in our state. Rand Paul rarely mentioned anything specific to Kentucky that wasn’t required to answer one of the questions. While I realize that some of Conway’s Kentucky shout-outs were the equivalent of a singer working the name of the town he’s playing in into a song, overall he gave the impression that he really does care about Kentucky. Rand Paul, on the other hand, seemed more concerned with Rand Paul’s political career.
* Conway was much more aggressive in calling Rand Paul out on his flip-flops and more ludicrous positions than I expected. Since the Conway campaign has missed several golden opportunities (especially early in the campaign) to showcase what a dangerous lunatic Rand Paul is, this was a nice change of pace.
* Conway’s views regarding the interaction between business and government are actually a lot more in line with my own than I had expected. On several occasions, he made it very clear that there are big problems with the role that corporate interests play in government, and that these problems need to be solved. Admittedly these kinds of beliefs usually fall victim to Washington realities fairly quickly once a candidate gets elected, but at least he hasn’t completely sold out to campaign contributors just yet.
* Conway answered the questions. Rand Paul wasted no time in dovetailing into his standard talking points (either that, or into asserting that he never said he supported a Medicare deductible, despite the fact that he’s said exactly that numerous times--many of them on camera). While Conway definitely worked in his talking points wherever possible, in nearly all cases he actually answered the questions that were asked as well.
* After the debate, Conway stuck around and shook hands, posed for photos, and talked to people. After about half an hour I got the impression that he was anxious to move on, but at least he made some kind of effort. Once he left the stage, Rand Paul wasn’t seen again. It was almost like he’s afraid someone might ask him an unscripted question (or start chanting “Aqua Buddha” over and over again) or something.
* And, as you’ve probably heard, Conway had the best line of the debate when he said “As the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I’m always amused to get a lecture on constitutional law from a self-certified opthamologist.”
Going into the debate, Jack Conway was getting my vote, but it was 80% a Lesser of Two Evils vote against Rand Paul. After watching the debate, its’ more like 50/50 and I feel a lot better about voting for Conway. While his ideas for fixing some of the problems in our country differ quite a bit from my own, we at least seem to agree on what most of the big problems are. I know this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that you that it’s important to vote in November, and that it doesn’t matter who you vote for as long as you vote. In this case, though, if you’re planning to vote for Rand Paul I’d really prefer that you stay home.