MT Senate Debate 2012: It Got Personal

Although it was held during Monday Night Football, I enjoyed the debate between U.S. Senator Jon Tester and his challenger, Congressman Denny Rehberg. Both candidates made it interesting from the start and the hour went by quickly. Plus, it got personal.

This morning both candidates are feeling they won, and there are things they can take away from the debate that are positive. As for the people who watched the debate – we basically saw an hour-long replay of the negative television ads that are running across the state – except we saw the candidates giving the responses instead of just saying, “and I approved this message.”

We heard about trips abroad, a lawsuit against the city of Billings, voting with Obama 95% of the time, supporting the stimulus, lobbyists, not supporting the stimulus, etc.

Two things were disappointing to me. First, none of the “journalists” on the panel asked about veterans or military/defense issues. Second, Libertarian Dan Cox was not invited to the debate.

The supporters of Rehberg contend that he “drew a clear contrast between himself and liberal, anti-coal Senator Jon Tester in the second debate” and the supporters of Tester contend, “Lobbyist-turned-Congressman Dennis Rehberg failed to hold himself accountable to Montana tonight.”

Two things stood out to me. First, Rehberg’s supporters feel that Tester’s stance on the estate tax (death tax) saying he would make it permanent for couples with assets over $10 million might be an angle they can score some points on. We’ll see. Many folks believe that amount is a good compromise.

Second, in response to his several trips abroad, Rehberg said he went on these trips to learn, “rather than going back to my farm every weekend.” To me that response seemed to belittle Tester for his work as a farmer, which might backfire in the rural areas of Montana. Tester has used the fact that he is a dirt farmer to the utmost during this and his 2006 campaign.

As someone who majored in Communications with emphases in speech and writing, I sometimes see debates and speeches differently than the regular viewer. I have advised several folks over the years (politicians and non-politicians). Here are some of my observations (there’s no charge):

Denny Rehberg really needed to slow down his speech so people could more easily understand his points. He talked too fast and seemed overly excited (even more than Mitt Romney the other night). Rehberg’s hand gestures were too frequent and many times unnatural. These two things can be corrected with debate practice. Rehberg also has an eyelid twitch or squint which seems to kick in when he is nervous.  It’s annoying and distracts from his speech.  I doubt he can correct that.

Rehberg scanned the audience while talking which is a great way to connect to them.

Jon Tester needs some wardrobe help. His handlers should tell him that when he is standing with a suit or sports coat on, button it. If you can’t button the jacket, buy one you can. Second, wear a shirt that fits around the neck better. Third, pay attention by looking at your opponent and the audience when your opponent is talking. Writing things down means you may be missing the points the opponent is making while you are writing things down.

Tester was able to explain things better (he talked slower) and he used a little humor in his responses, which makes points with the viewers.

Overall, I think Jon Tester clearly won this debate. I am not alone. The people participating in the independent “The Western Word” poll feel the same way. According to the poll, Jon Tester won the debate with 68% of the vote to Denny Rehberg’s 32% percent. Thanks to the hundreds who participated!

Here are three different sources with stories about the debate (click on the source to see): The Associated Press, Lee Newspapers, and The Hill.

The Tester campaign already has a video posted about the debate HERE.

You can watch the debate on C-SPAN HERE.

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