Monday, November 14, 2005

6th CD forum, from behind the podium 

Though apparently my sportcoat sucked* -- clothes and I are barely on speaking terms since I don't like shopping for them and they don't like looking good on me -- I thoroughly enjoyed moderating the Sixth CD GOP forum at the Mermaid in Mounds View. Note to vegetarians -- they have a nice veggie burger in there (get the steak fries with it!), and we'll chalk up slow service this time to an aberration.

Everyone has complimented Andy of Residual Forces and KvM for the event. You have no idea how hard it is to pull something like that off. He sweat every detail, and when asked about one he resweated it. (I'm claiming that as a new verb: "resweat, v., to lay awake at night going over again each detail of an event you are putting on that nobody you know has done before.") The only hitch was bad mics, which were the venue's responsibilty and not his. And given that Tony did a great job with a recap of who said what -- go there! -- the mics weren't that bad. Sorry to everyone I saw before the event but not after, as we had all the candidates on NARN and then I recapped the event for the rest of the hour. Strommie's food was gone, and bless Andy if he didn't feed me with the aforementioned veggie burger.

Front row was bloggers row, with the gang from Freedom Dogs and Ben of Hammerswing75 (or, given his note perhaps we should call him hammerschwing!) Lots of cameras around was a little daunting. We economists don't get many cameras to an Midwest Economics Association meeting.

Anyway, how was it you wonder? The links from the bloggers above and from Eva here will give you the who-said-what. I talked with Tony and Marty on Race to the Right for an hour about this today, as well as the instant reaction on NARN yesterday. Just a couple more thoughts, though.

You have to be impressed with Krinkie's presentation and debate skills. Tony and I noted on R2R that he has notecards that clearly indicate a forensics background. He was easily the most prepared person on the stage. Polish requires preparation.

Living in St. Cloud means I've heard Knoblach in a number of places, and one of the impressions people have of him is that he's a rather dry technocrat. He shed one of those images yesterday. I hardly recognized this guy with the forward lean, the more forceful voice, and a purpose to his statements. That said, he still is emphasizing competency over vision. Competence appeals to the moderate voter who is wary of anyone with ideology -- but those people weren't in the room. If you want the candidate who fits well with Governor Pawlenty, I think he's the one.

I was standing closest to Bachmann and Esmay, and the vibes were very different. Esmay had a built-in advantage in the forum because nobody expects him to do well. He's the neophyte, the amateur, hopping in the ring with three seasoned veterans; all he has to do is look like he belongs up there. He did better than that. He was asked the first question first -- will you abide by the convention's endorsement. Hand him the mic. "Yes," and hands it back. That followed up well with his "I'm not a politician, and neither were Kennedy and Kline when they won this job" opener. And as Tony notes, he hit the last question on what values he would never betray -- sleep** -- like David Ortiz hits hanging sliders. He not only showed he belonged up there, but he found a message that has traction. That does not mean he wins the endorsement, but it does mean he has enough to stick around to the convention.

Michele Bachmann is held to a different standard than the other candidates. Some of that is of her own making, for being outspoken and brash elevates both expectations and the desire of your opponents to knock you down. But some of it is others' reaction to things she says that are rather innocuous. A couple of people referred to her using "girly talk", and who can forget the darn "Vote for Pedro" attire? Well, so what? Her sex is a distinction in the race, and what on earth is the problem with her using it? It didn't bother me at all. What did strike me was that she seemed a little defensive and not as brassy as I remember her in studio or elsewhere. It wasn't nerves -- Esmay was more nervous, naturally since he hasn't done this as much -- but just a sense that this wasn't her A game. And that may be the expectations problem even with me, because you do expect her to be charming and charismatic ... and those who really like her gave her great reviews anyway. So she was bound to be the person on whom there would be the greatest divergence of opinion.

It's a four-way race here, and the forum served to show some real distinctions between the candidates. Since all four say they will abide by the endorsement, I won't get to vote a preference that matters. I'm glad for that: It'll be a hard choice for delegates.

* -- this comment because the four candidates went out of their way in closing statements to compliment Andy's suit.
** -- this is also my management style: If a decision I made in the department wakes me up at 4am, it's a pretty good sign that this was abad decision. I've slept well the last three years.