Who Won the CNN/YouTube Debate?

(This article authored by Chris Ingram, originally appeared December 2, 2007 on FrontPageFlorida.com)

TAMPA — Walking out of Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate, I asked my friend and fellow political consultant Jamie Miller who he thought won the debate. Jamie’s response was right on the money. “Mike Huckabee won,” he said. Adding, “though on paper John McCain probably looked just as good.” Jamie didn’t have to add that voters don’t read transcripts of debates, so the token “on paper” victory is meaningless for McCain’s struggling campaign.

So what made Huckabee the winner? First and foremost, he actually answered the questions he was asked (unlike Mitt Romney). And he wasn’t nearly as scripted as some of the other candidates (most notably Giuliani). Furthermore, Huckabee has an easy-going, non-threatening demeanor. This works well for any candidate because it translates into likeability and voters tend to support candidates who have a likeable personality. Huckabee scored big points (based on audience applause) when he told Mitt “say anything/say nothing” Romney we Americans “shouldn’t punish a child because of a parent’s crime” when referring to whether the children of illegal immigrants should be denied college education benefits.

Huckabee’s response to the question about whether or not Jesus would support the death penalty was the night’s best line. Huckabee demonstrated he is quick on his feet and has a great sense of humor when he told CNN host Anderson Cooper “Jesus was too smart to run for public office.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce sponsored a post-debate poll which was reported in numerous newspapers the day after the debate showing 44 percent of undecided Florida voters who watched the debate believed Huckabee won, with 18 percent saying Giuliani, and 13 percent McCain. Some newspapers that reported on the poll made it sound as if the poll was an “open” survey which anyone could call in to – which would make it meaningless and prone to hijacking by Ron Paul supporters. Earlier in the day I spoke with Tom Baxter, an old acquaintance and reporter with the Atlanta Journal who explained the methodology of the chamber poll to me. He said: since federal law prohibits polling after 9 p.m. the polling firm hired by the paper had to identify people who planned on watching the debate and then asked them to call-in when it was over. Those who were willing to participate were mailed a post card with the call-in number and a one-time code to ensure there was not any vote stacking. In short, the poll conducted by Insider Advantage was a legitimate poll that would make Theresa LePore choke on a hanging chad. Congratulations Mike Huckabee!

Here is something you probably didn’t see on TV. After the debate in the media “spin room” some guy pushed down a staffer of Mike Huckabee’s. Huckabee caught the tail end of this incident and appeared to be ready to join the brawl to protect his lowly staffer. As a one-time lowly staffer myself, I can tell you, any candidate who is willing to go to the mat for an easily replaceable campaign aide is a good man. The guy who made the attack on the staffer was later escorted out of the debate hall by about a half-dozen of St. Pete’s finest men in blue and they were overheard discussing charging the man with battery. I’m not sure if they did or not, but it sure did provide some post-debate excitement — nothing like a good brawl.

So Mike Huckabee won, but how about the rest of the bunch?

No doubt Governor Mitt Romney was a big disappointment to anyone looking for an honest answer to a question. Several times the audience snickered listening to Romney (aka Eddie Haskell) as he dodged specific questions or tried to explain his flip-flops on issues like abortion, gay rights and other important issues. About the only refreshing thing he said was when he admitted he was wrong and changed his position (on abortion, on gay rights, on gun control, on immigration, and on pretty much every other issue he was asked about). Being honest about being wrong could be embraced favorably by voters if it were believable. But coming from Romney it just sounds more like a poll-tested response that some consultant told him to say.

When he wasn’t scrapping with Romney, Rudy Giuliani appeared overly prepped and scripted. His answer to a question about how to balance the budget and cut the national debt droned on about cutting federal government spending five to ten percent across the board and not replacing retiring federal workers. The answer was evasive and sounded more like bureaucratic gobble-dee-gook than a well though out plan to address one of the biggest problems facing our nation (out of control spending). The way to control spending is to cut taxes. If Washington doesn’t have your money they can’t spend it. Oh wait, yes they can. They do it every day by running up the national debt. Anyhow, Rudy should have had a better answer. Note to Rudy: get Frank Luntz back on the payroll. And work on that response about gun control. The booing heard in the debate hall doesn’t suggest GOP voters believe or like your answer.

I found myself secretly hoping Fred Thompson would land a knock-out punch. Instead, poor Fred’s attacks come across as mean and negative. That’s no way to appeal to voters already skeptical of your candidacy. It’s too bad Thompson’s campaign is run so poorly because he is the only serious candidate who has taken unpopular but necessary stands on some of the most important issue facing our nation – reforming Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. All of the other candidates merely pander to senior citizens by saying they want to “preserve and protect the system for current and future generations.”That’s about as responsible as a dentist noting you have four cavities and need a root canal but won’t do the procedure and instead sends you home with a bag of Tootsie Rolls. Thompson’s way of thinking would actually make these programs viable for the long-term but given the voting public likes only to hear what it wants as opposed to what it needs, it’s not the winning strategy for Thompson to resuscitate his overly-hyped campaign.

In the spin room Thompson was aided by none other than George “mucaca” Allen. Now the former U.S. Senator is a nice guy who just happened to have had a momentary lapse of good judgment. But still Fred, is this the guy you want talking to the media on your behalf? And really Fred, with thirty some-odd years in Washington is he the best spokesman you can come up with? Whoever is calling the shots at the Thompson campaign needs to go back to campaign school. Maybe once the Hollywood writer’s strike is over Fred will drop out and go back to Law and Order. You can’t win a presidential race with no enthusiasm for campaigning.

John McCain came close to having some knock-out punches but his penchant for talking too much and hearing his own voice left his potential good one-liners lying flat. Still, he got three standing ovations from the crowd – the only other standing Os were received by non-candidate Florida Governor Charlie Crist before the debate started. McCain looks old and tired – anything but the Maverick fighter he used to be. Perhaps President Huckabee will make him Secretary of Defense.

In case you didn’t know it beforehand, Tom Tancredo said he believes legal and illegal immigration is wrong. I wonder what Tom’s ancestors would have thought about this position. Tom also thinks there aren’t any jobs American’s aren’t willing to do that need to be available to immigrants. Note to Tom: you’re wrong. Here in Florida, oranges rot on the ground because growers can’t find enough legal or illegal workers to harvest the crop. So unless you’re willing to pay $12.00 for a head of lettuce Tom, recognize we need immigrant labor.

If you blinked you might have missed it, but yes, Duncan Hunter was in fact on the stage and he was asked a few questions. However, his answers were not memorable, funny, or thought provoking. Hunter should drop out and go back to building border fences.

Finally, poor Ron Paul was on the defensive all night. This is not where you want to be on the national stage.He basically had to defend the wing-nut, “black helicopters are coming to get us” conspiracy crowd of which he is the honorary Grand Poo-Pah. Paul is the Chevy Nova of political campaigns. That car’s sales bombed when GM tried to sell it in Mexico because Nova translates into “no go” in Spanish. Packaging and marketing matter in politics and Ron Paul doesn’t get it. The more you watch him, the weirder you realize he is. I’ll bet he has seen (just like Democratic freak-case Dennis Kucinich) UFOs. Somebody should ask him about that.

In my last column I said this column would focus on the Democrat candidates. But since the GOP debate was in town, I decided to put the Democrats off for the next column. Besides, what’s the point? We all know the party of big government is foolish enough to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at at chris@411communications.net.

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