With November's pivotal midterm elections less than three weeks away, candidates in three of the nation's most closely watched races — the Senate contests in Delaware and Connecticut, and the governor's race in California — have exchanged their nastiest personal attacks yet. Here is a quick roundup (and accompanying video highlights of each debate):
Delaware: Christine O'Donnell vs. Chris Coons
The debate: Down by double digits in the polls, Tea Party-favorite Christine O'Donnell entered her first nationally televised debate against her Democratic rival, Chris Coons, needing a "dramatic win." In a series of "testy" exchanges, O'Donnell hammered Coons as a liberal tax addict and pressed him to explain a 1985 college essay in which he referred to himself as a "bearded Marxist" (Coons dismissed it as "a joke"). Despite her attempt to go on the offensive, O'Donnell found herself defending many of her own youthful pronouncements — including a 1998 claim that evolution is a "myth."
The reaction: This wasn't the home run O'Donnell needed, says Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. She was easily "flummoxed," especially trying to avoid admitting, under grilling from CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, that she still doesn't believe in evolution. Meanwhile, Coon effectively established himself as "a clean-shaven capitalist." Come on — Coons was "terrible," says Jim Geraghty at National Review. His answers were "predictable" liberal pabulum. O'Donnell continued to impress voters by proving she isn't the "bubble-headed, wacky ditz" the media makes her out to be. Au contraire, says James Fallows in The Atlantic. This debate established her as "more dangerous than Sarah Palin," who at least has the sense to know that her ignorance is a liability. O'Donnell, animated by "idiot bravado," seems to be a purebred and shameless Know Nothing. Watch highlights from the debate:
California: Meg Whitman vs. Jerry Brown
The debate: In their debate Tuesday, California's gubernatorial candidates butted heads over many things, including Republican Meg Whitman's plan to eliminate state capital gains tax, which Democrat Jerry Brown says would benefit the rich while penalizing the middle class. But their most memorable clash was over the use of the word "whore." Brown repeated an apology he issued after a campaign aide was caught on voicemail using that term to refer to Whitman for allegedly cutting deals with unions for endorsements. Whitman said the incident was typical of the "slurs and personal attacks" coming from Brown's campaign.
The reaction: In such a tough year for Democrats, whore-gate could be Jerry Brown's downfall, says Hugh Hewitt at Townhall. His "drawn-out non-apology/apology" was "spectacularly ungracious." Whitman is in trouble if she is counting on this "empty" scandal to put her over the top, says Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times. She wants voters to reject Brown because he didn't throw a fit when an aide used the word "whore." But by suggesting that women should care more about a "sexist word" than about how she and Brown differ on taxes, pension reform, and other issues — that's the "real insult." Watch a local report about the debate:
Connecticut: Richard Blumenthal vs. Linda McMahon
The debate: In their final debate, the candidate in Connecticut's Senate race traded some of their harshest attacks yet. Democrat Richard Blumenthal accused pro wrestling magnate Linda McMahon of running a company, World Wrestling Entertainment, that promotes sex and violence. McMahon shot back, saying her business experience taught her how to create jobs.
The reaction: Blumenthal's attacks on WWE's "sleazy content" didn't score many points, says Brian Bolduc at National Review. And the crowd sounded disappointed when the debate ended just as things were getting juicy, with McMahon blasting Blumenthal yet again for exaggerating his military service during the Vietnam era. The debate certainly won't help McMahon catch up with Blumenthal in the polls, says Chris Powell at Connecticut's Journal-Inquirer. Blumenthal repeatedly put her on the defensive, "criticizing her clumsy evasion of issues as well as the source of the fortune with which she is trying to buy the election — her grotesque business." No wonder McMahon won't debate again, and Blumenthal wants to go another round. Watch a local report about the debate: