Normally, Democratic debates in deep-blue Arlington are wonky, congenial, staid, even boring affairs, where the candidates at least pretend to be cordial to each other. And tonight’s 31st State Senate district Democratic debate, between incumbent Sen. Barbara Favola and challenger Nicole Merlene, largely held to that model for the entire debate…until the closing statements, when basically all hell broke loose.
What I mean by “all hell breaking loose” was Sen. Favola bringing up, for some reason I don’t fully understand, the fact that Merlene’s campaign manager (Matt Royer), when he was 18 or 19 years old, put out some tweets which – as Royer himself has fully acknowledged – were (in his words) “honestly ignorant and stupid and I regret them wholeheartedly.” Royer also said, in a statement:
“I don’t feel those represent me as a person. I have grown and learned since that time that words matter and that they can hurt people. I realize that it’s not funny and that it shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I also know that in my heart, that’s not who I am. I have worked for and with many people of color and LGBTQ and fought for them for equality so I would never want to harm anyone. I know better and I will continue to do better. and honestly, I’m very sorry.”
For her part, Merlene called the comments “inappropriate, abhorrent, sophomoric and not becoming of anyone that represents me or my campaign and I apologize for that.”
Anyway, getting back to Sen. Favola, in her closing statement, she ripped into Merlene and her campaign manager, calling Merlene a “tantalizing” “new flavor that you can look at,” adding:
“It came to the attention of our campaign that my opponent’s campaign manager had tweets on his Twitter feed, although they were five years ago, these tweets were hurtful, they were racist and they were homophobic. Now you think about that; this is a new flavor. Do we really know the new flavor? Do those tweets really reflect the values of my opponent? Or, let’s take a more optimistic view, is she just so naive she was unaware she had to do due diligence in hiring her top campaign person.”
But wait, there’s more. After stating unequivocally that her campaign manager’s 5-years-ago tweets were wrong, unacceptable, etc. and apologizing, Merlene hit back hard at Favola:
“A sitting state senator attacking their opponent’s staff person for social media posts that happened when they were a teenager is telling…I have very directly talked to my campaign manager and instructed them to work with both black leaders in the community including the NAACP and LGBTQ organizations throughout the entire district. And the fact that this is the first time that you’re hearing about it tonight, I think is also telling about the reception that we’ve had…I think what I can bring to the Virginia State Senate is a breath of fresh air, and someone that is not organizing the talking points for the entire legislative body on how to defend Ralph Northam for their actions.”
So…that was, er, different! I mean, when was the last time any of us have seen an Arlington Democratic debate end like that?!? Which raises the big question: WHY? As in, why did Sen. Favola feel the need to “go there?” Is she that worried about winning her primary, even as I’ve heard she’s been telling people she thinks she’s going to win easily? And if she’s *not* worried about winning the primary on June 11, then I don’t understand the need to attack her opponent so harshly, basically stating that Merlene either shares racist and homophobic views and/or is terminally naive. Neither of which – particularly the former – seem at all plausible to me, having spoken at length with both Nicole Merlene and Matt Royer. Perhaps, given the nasty primary (to be fair, in both directions) Favola was a part of in 2011 against Jaime Areizaga-Soto, this is simply how Favola likes to run her campaigns? It’s hard to say.
Anyway, we’ll see if the “smash mouth” stuff works for Favola on June 11, but I really wonder if calling a young woman a “tantalizing” “new flavor that you can look at” [mangled metaphor alert: you don’t *look at* a flavor, you *taste* a flavor] and making her campaign manager’s teenage tweets from five years ago a major campaign issue, might not backfire on her. We’ll see what SD31 Democrats decide in 41 days, I guess. Stay tuned…