My takeaway from the Thompson/Baldwin debate is that the senatorial election will boil down to two key issues: who is most capable of inter-party collaboration and who is most capable of reform. None of the other important issues of the day (e.g., healthcare, foreign policy, the economy, budgetary solutions) can be resolved without cooperation and reform.

I think honest individuals -- those not caught up in partisan talking points -- will admit that Tommy Thompson is the stronger candidate in these two key categories. His record as governor working with Democrats and reforming major government problems are well known. For this reason, Tammy Baldwin attacks didn’t focus on his tenure as governor, but during his time in Washington.

In contrast, Baldwin’s role as a U.S. Representative is best described as being a tag-along. In contrast, Baldwin’s role as a U.S. Representative is best described as being a tag along. As Thompson pointed out several times in the debate, Baldwin made no attempts during her 14 years in congress to take a leadership role in reforming Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Furthermore, she has presented no finalized plan to keep solvent these entitlement programs, but has embraced a “kick the can down the road” approach indicative of her tag-along record.

Additionally, Baldwin’s record of inter-party collaboration is scant. During the debate, she pointed to a few projects upon which she worked with Republicans, but they are too few considering her 14 years in congress. Her rating as the number one most liberal politician in the U.S. House of Representatives will be difficult to shrug off. In fact, she didn’t refute the observation, but tried to shrug off labels and name-calling.

Fair enough, for the sake of discussion, let’s drop the term liberal. Baldwin is still strongest Democrat loyalist in the House, voting with her party 98% of the time. How can Baldwin vote with her party 98% of the time and talk about congress becoming too partisan?

Politics in our country, especially in the last decade, has become very polarized. A new generation of politicians spends much of their time in office inundated by their party’s talking points in closed caucuses. We are past the era where Republicans and Democrats would debate each other passionately in the legislature, but share drinks during after work hours. Thompson comes from an era where collaboration wasn’t a dirty word -- a safe zone somewhere between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

There are a few other points worth noting. In my opinion, it is not in Baldwin’s best interest to have more debates with Thompson. Of course, she must because of prior commitments, but they will not help her campaign. I say this for a few reasons.

First, Thompson is clearly more experienced and skilled at public speaking. His remarks were fluid, leaving no awkward finishes. Baldwin appeared anxious, stammered through of her deliveries, and didn’t leave the perception of a confident and strong leader. In our republican-styled democracy, rhetorical skills are still very important, arguably more important now than during at any period in history.

Second, each time they debate, Thompson’s gubernatorial record of bipartisanship will be reinforced. Baldwin’s ideas are typical party platform stuff; when they’re not, they’re further to the left than her party is willing to go. Consequently, she will have a hard time convincing the public she’s the best candidate for reaching a consensus.

Third, Thompson’s gubernatorial record of leadership will only be an asset to his campaign. People have the right to criticize it, but at least it’s there to criticize. Baldwin’s record in congress is best characterized as being a backbencher. There are few instances in her 14 years in the House where she’s led on anything. Thompson is known throughout the country for his reforms in welfare and healthcare; Baldwin is hardly known outside her congressional district.

Despite recent polling data, Baldwin will have a very difficult time pulling off a victory in November. Her campaign will need to be flush with cash, flawless in messaging, and aggressive in outreach. The second part will be difficult. Her messaging will have to be overwhelmingly negative to compensate for a record wanting in accomplishment.

I’m not sure there is any need to clarify, but the debate clearly went to Thompson. To say otherwise is to ignore records of leadership and reform.

Feel free to share your opinions about my assessment below.

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