Did The Debates Move The Needle At All?
Editor's note: Vanguard President and CEO TJ Bucholz joins a panel of political pundits to discuss the impact of recent debates in Michigan's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.
Q. Did you see anything in the recent debates -- both Bill SCHUETTE vs Gretchen WHITMER and John JAMES vs U.S. Sen. Debbie STABENOW (D-Delta Twp.) -- that was likely to move the needle at all regarding either race?
T.J. BUCHOLZ, of Vanguard Public Affairs, said he didn't expect these most recent debates to provide many fireworks. "All statewide candidates have now been running political ads for so long that the debates were unlikely to move the needle, in fact, it's likely entrenched Republicans and Democrats further away from each other," Bucholz said. "In a statewide setting at this stage of the game, debates don't really help you but only hurt your effort, especially if gaffes are committed. Generally, the best you can do is perform as expected. Again, it's important to point out that in a classical sense, modern day 'debates' on television aren't actually debates, but rather opportunities for candidates to make their points best in the time allotted."
Q. Is there something about this particular year's major election debates -- specifically the governor's race and the U.S. Senate race -- that is resulting in an unusually high percentage of scripted responses?
"I actually believe the opposite this cycle -- the statewide debates to me have been far less scripted and candidates, for better or worse, have been interacting with each other more on stage," Bucholz said. "As an example, Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Schuette had far more back and forth than I expected, and she stood her ground very well, with some decent one-liners accompanying solid policy points." "Debate performance is often governed by message discipline, that's true, but in this case, I think the Donald TRUMP factor, if you want to find something positive to stay about the President, is that candidates are speaking more plainly on the campaign trail," Bucholz added. "While you're never going to have the sparkling conversation you might find at your dinner table on a Friday night during a debate exchange, I think candidates on both sides of aisle continue to improve their genuineness in debates and public forums."
Q. Even some of her fellow Democrats have stated that they believe Attorney General candidate Dana NESSEL is too liberal to be elected. But what, if anything, has her Republican opponent, House Speaker Tom LEONARD (R-DeWitt), done to exploit this alleged weakness?
Bucholz said Nessel's potential Achilles heel isn't that she's too liberal. "Dana Nessel's challenge isn't her liberal ideas or policy platforms -- in the current climate, the concepts she is espousing and promoting are relatively popular among the electorate," Bucholz said. "The concerns associated with Nessel's campaign effort have much more to do with her personal judgment and temperament than any disconnect with her policy ideas. Breathtaking and amateurish campaign missteps have occurred in the last several weeks that do not engender good feelings about her, which is why Leonard is beginning to catch her in every poll currently in the field." "I think the Leonard campaign has been eerily quiet, primarily because of the reasons I've pointed out," Bucholz continued. "They are hoping to give Nessel enough rope to hang herself, and then bomb voters with positive Leonard ads as a viable alternative. That's the likely strategy for the Republicans. The GOP sees Leonard as a critical beachhead to maintain control and be an important check to a Governor Whitmer, and they will wait until they see the whites of Dana Nessel's eyes before they strike with lethal force." Q. If the voters reject Proposal 1 (the proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana) and it fails to significantly increase Democratic voter turnout, will Michigan's GOP brain-trust become less likely to bend over backwards trying to keep future proposals off the ballot?
According to Bucholz, there's no reason to expect the Republicans to stop weighing to keep proposals off the ballot if they feel it's in their best interests to do so. "Republican leadership in Lansing is a lot of things, but they aren't foolish," Bucholz said. "The success or failure of Proposal 1 won't change their game plan broadly. They will decide on future ballot initiatives (if they maintain control of the House and Senate, which is a bit up in the air right now) on a case-by-case basis, and they will analyze how every issue impacts the political landscape as a whole."
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