GOP debate: sparks and humor

Who knew what to expect in last night’s debate among the three leading candidates for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate? This was, by far, the biggest stage for Evan Jenkins, Patrick Morrisey and Don Blankenship, and each wanted to use it to their greatest advantage before the election.

A few observations:

—The debate was entertaining. I know, that’s not really the point of a political debate, but we have short attention spans and it’s so easy for us to tune out whatever is going on that we need something that holds our interest. I thought the debate did that for the entire hour. In fact, I would have liked to have seen it go a little longer.

—Each of the three upped their game. I’ve interviewed each of the candidates numerous times and watched two previous debates. All three were clearly better.

—Yes, it’s a race to the right and to find space on Donald Trump’s coattails. There continues to be not a significant amount of difference among the three on broad issues. Jenkins continued to invoke his support of Trump at every opportunity.

—The question about whether any of the three would support Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader proved to be interesting. Jenkins and Morrisey both hedged, while Blankenship said unequivocally that he opposes McConnell. That fits Blankenship’s anti-establishment campaign, but may be an issue for more mainstream Republicans.

—Speaking of Blankenship, who knew he had a sense of humor? Blankenship had several of the best one liners of the night, including a question about the Mueller investigation when he said he has had experience with the Justice Department.

—Jenkins hit up Morrisey again on the “New Jersey values” stuff. That backfired a bit because co-moderator Martha MacCallum is from New Jersey. But Jenkins isn’t going for votes in the Garden State. Also, Morrisey has fine-tuned his rebuttal on this, pointing out that he became a West Virginian by choice.

—Morrisey still has to explain his connections to Big Pharma, from his days as a lobbyist to his wife’s work for a law firm that represents pharmaceutical companies. Yes, his office has gone after drug companies for distributing huge numbers of pain pills in WV, but it’s a soft spot for him because of the state’s opioid crisis.

—Blankenship was able to use his practiced answer on the Upper Big Branch disaster by repeating his version of events. His conviction and jail time are hurdles that are just extremely difficult to get over, even if in the minds of some Republicans he is the most anti-establishment of all the candidates.

—At various points in the debate, each said the others were lying. That may come off as too mean, but it is also inevitable given the nature of campaigns these days, especially some of the ads.

—Jenkins has some baggage on the party switching, but he was also able to turn that into a positive when he explained why he thought it was important to defeat Joe Manchin. That’s a big issue in this race; who is the best person to take on Manchin.

—And finally, I thought this debate, with all the attention, could go a long way toward establishing a clear leader in this race. I don’t think that happened, but the candidate who appeared to help himself the most was Don Blankenship. He was able to calmly, and at times humorously, answer questions while the two leaders attacked each other.

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