I don’t know if you remember how much Fox 5 political analyst Mark Plotkin (note: Plotkin previously was the political commentator and analyst for WTOP Radio from 2002 to 2012, and for WAMU before that) hated Terry McAuliffe in 2009, but as someone who covered that race closely – and who supported McAuliffe – I certainly do. For instance, see Plotkin Disses McAuliffe from May 2009. At that time, Plotkin had this to say: “The Democratic primary for governor is Tuesday, June 9. Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds are qualified to be governor. Terry McAuliffe is not.” Ouch.
Well, that was then, this is now. Here’s Mark Plotkin on Terry McAuliffe in THIS year’s election:
[Terry McAuliffe] is a dramatically and starkly different candidate…four years ago he finished a distant second in the Democratic primary to Creigh Deeds…I saw a remarkable difference [at the debate yesterday] – poised, polished in the good sense, measured, well informed, and really made a good impression. And even when Cuccinelli tried to get under his skin, he didn’t blanch or flinch, and kept on smiling. So this is a FAR different candidate, much more measured and intelligent.
As for Ken Cuccinelli’s performance during the debate? Plotkin says that Cuccinelli was in “attack mode” (true), wanting to portray McAuliffe as “from Washington,” but Cuccinelli was “unsmiling” and “far too tough for that medium.”
I’d certainly agree with all that, and I must say I found Cuccinelli’s performance yesterday to be surprisingly – almost shockingly – bad. Having watched Cuccinelli debate (and defeat) Janet Oleszek and Steve Shannon, I assumed that he’d be very strong at the Homestead, almost certainly win the debate. Honestly, prior to that debate, I was hoping for a “tie” at best between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli.
But from the opening moments, it was clear that McAuliffe was – as Plotkin said – a vastly improved candidate from 2009, definitely on his “A game” and “loaded for bear.” It was also clear that Cuccinelli was NOT on his “A game.” Instead, I’d say he never got into any kind of rhythm, seemed angry and petulant, definitely didn’t act gubernatorial (e.g., with his puerile use of the word “Democrat” as an adjective instead of the noun that it is, or with his bigoted/divisive description of LGBT people as facing a “personal challenge” due to their sexuality). In addition, as F.T. Rea of Slantblog put it, “Cuccinelli seemed scared and unsure of himself” during the first half of the debate, while “McAuliffe hit the ground running, brimming over with confidence…well prepared and it showed.” OK, so that was just the first half of the debate, what about the second half? Here’s Slantblog:
When Cuccinelli did manage to get over his shaky start, in the debate’s last half-hour, he tried to affect his cock-of-the walk style. However, it seemed a little forced and he still looked self-conscious. Which all seemed to underline the notion that Cuccinelli’s style works much better when he’s working a highly partisan crowd, or being interviewed by sympathetic questioners.
McAuliffe mentioned a $1,500 turkey dinner the AG presumably enjoyed, for which Williams picked up the check. Then the Democratic candidate chuckled, “That’s a lot of turkey!”
Yes, it was surprising to me how much better McAuliffe performed in this first debate. He seemed likeable and quick on his feet. Up until today, I had been more than a little worried than Cuccinelli would be the more confident debater. Now I wonder if Cuccinelli ought to just avoid any future one-on-one debates.
Of course, this was just one debate, watched by perhaps 2,500 people (out of a Virginia population of 8 million) on the live stream, plus a few hundred in attendance at the Homestead. Which is why media coverage of the debate matters, and why comments like Plotkin’s – and Slantblog’s, and others – could have an impact. We’ll see.