Who Won the First Senate Debate?

Last night at 8:45, fifteen minutes after the first debate for this year’s US Senate race, I received an email from the Dean Barkley campaign proclaiming: “Dean Wins First Debate.”

I am signed up to get these emails, so obviously I’m sympathetic to the Independence Party. But I’m also a fan of realistic outlooks. “What a brazen assertion,” I thought. “Surely we won’t know who won the debate until the pundits have their way with it.” I had seen the debate, so while I could see no clear winners, Dean Barkley certainly hadn’t lost.

(Oh yeah, that’s right. I watched the debate last night. It wasn’t on teevee, but perennially relevant citizen news source The Uptake broadcast the whole thing via streaming internet video. They were the only ones.)

I was kind of happy to see Al Franken pivot from his performance at Farmfest, where he talked about Norm Coleman almost exclusively, to talk about himself and how he would act and vote as a senator. Still, he was woefully deplete of specifics–but to be fair, so was Coleman.

Coleman, for his part, was also just as focused on Franken as on himself. He was also shoving his face in Al Franken’s face every time Franken gave an answer. It looked like a weird attempt to distract Franken and get him to screw up, which did not happen.

One thing struck me, however. Both Coleman and Franken were really happy talking about themselves and each other–and Barkley. But when they talked about Barkley it wasn’t the same, “He’s unprepared, he’s divisive, he hates America/seniors/students/our troops/our economy/etc” that characterized the barbs about the other two. No, it was all positive: no fewer than twice did Norm Coleman actually preface a statement with the words, “Dean is right.

This was a very peculiar strategy, considering Barkley is polling at 18-19% (depending on which poll you look at). In the first days of October, for an independent candidate, polling anywhere near close to 20% is what is known as “striking distance.” And he seems to be pulling from both Coleman and Franken.

So, the way I see it, this race is Franken’s to lose. He attacks Norm Coleman, ignores Dean Barkley, and keeps himself nebulous at his own peril. I hope, for the sake of casting an informed vote, that Franken sheds some more light on himself.

But as for the debate? In a three-way tie, the guy who is told he’s right the most times wins. So whaddya know, Dean Wins First Debate.

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