A quick analysis of last night’s Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial Debate:
If one accepts the premise that a key success metric is: “Did Candidate X achieve what they set out to accomplish?” Then by that standard, Delegate Heather Mizeur won the first debate. At least she fared the best of the three candidates on the stage. If I were grading their performances, I would probably give her a B+ (I am a tough grader).
Mizeur needed to look and sound like a Governor. Her presentation was largely positive and policy-focused, she came across like a Chief Executive. This was helped by the fact that Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler chewed up a considerable amount of clock with their back-and-forth squabbling.
Mizeur needed to stay on message and focus on conveying the key points of her platform. Again, she was largely successful in this regard. From a technical perspective, she delivered a superlative response to the “experience” question by citing concrete examples of how she helped “get big things done.” Excellent pivot.
Perhaps she spoke about a living wage one time too many; and there could have been more “loft” in her closing statement, a more compelling articulation of her vision for Maryland. That said, by not engaging in the finger-pointing or getting caught up in the muck and mire, she made the most of her opportunity.
What Mizeur needs to watch out for? Rising poll numbers will make Mizeur a target in a second debate. With such a scenario, she has to be prepared to handle tough questions from the moderator/panelists and the other two candidates. The trick will be to stay on the high road while being able to respond, effectively, to any criticisms. She also needs a better closing statement, something that wins over hearts and minds by simultaneously elevating and grounding her slogan: “Real Results for Maryland Families” into language that connects with voters. Could be as simple as a re-working of one of the themes she touched on earlier. For example: “it’s time to get big things done, for a Maryland for all of us.”
I would probably give Gansler a B-. His opening statement was solid. If he was running in an open primary, I would probably have given him a B but his profile and positioning tend to be to the right of Brown and there are simply fewer likely Democratic primary voters – in a closed primary – who occupy that space. His attacks on Brown were better-crafted and executed than Brown’s critiques of Gansler. Gansler also didn’t come across as a seething rage-aholic, which is a plus for the Attorney General.
What Gansler needs to watch out for? Gansler has shown he can throw a punch, but he risks alienating potential voters (most notably soft Brown supporters who could be convinced to support another candidate as well as persuadable undecideds who might be averse, attitudinally, to “comparative" campaigning). So he has to worry about hitting too hard, or too often. Doing so might open up the temperament question, which leads straight to the character issue that remains a looming menace to his candidacy.
Brown delivered a C/C+ performance. His attempt at tagging Gansler with the “reprimand” back-fired. His opening statement was a bit bio-heavy, but candidates seeking higher offices can get away with spending some time talking about their personal narrative…to a certain extent. Both Mizeur and Gansler did a better job of discussing issues that voters care about in their opening remarks.
What Brown needs to watch out for? Well the good news from Brown’s off night is that his expectations might be lower for the second debate. He clearly didn’t accomplish what he set out to do and he looked vulnerable in the process. His campaign has the most work to do in terms of message re-tooling and debate prep. He did well when he talked about service…but he rarely linked that theme up with a specific issue or Higher Purpose (the role of government in, say, education…or health care). Connect the dots from a philosophic underpinning to how he, as Governor, can turn that vision into a reality, a reality that will help the lives of Maryland families by X, Y, Z. And, frankly, he needs to be less cautious…while also framing better criticisms of Gansler. When he tried to go on the offense, he swung and missed too many times.
The next debate should be considered Must-See TV.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.