Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Mike Rounds, and Gordon Howie "debated" on South Dakota Public Broadcasting last night to prove who ought to be South Dakota's next Senator. Here are the most important observations to come from the debate:
- Gordon Howie wins on points. He challenged Mike Rounds directly on EB-5, saying the former governor had brought the scandal upon himself by skipping debates and giving false information. He challenged Rounds to testify under oath on EB-5. Howie blasted Rounds for doubling the state budget and leaving a $127-million structural deficit. And Rounds ignored those points. Ignoring points usually means you lose a debate.
- Gordon Howie railed against "corruption" and "crony capitalism," yet he used the public airwaves to plug a private company. He joked that all the campaign ads were crowding out Taco John's commercials. Hmm... is Gordon making a deal for his own Schiefferesque cavalry cash from a conservative businessman and USD grad?
- Mike Rounds implied EB-5 is good, because it's a program just like Canada has (well, had: Canada decided the visa investment program doesn't pay off and canceled it this year). By that logic, Rounds should embrace single-payer health insurance.
- Weiland felt too restrained, especially at the beginnings of his responses, as if he was overplaying the humble country-boy image. I understand the psychology at play, but gentle aw-shucksery will not defeat the Rounds machine. Weiland did build fire in each of his answers, but beating Rounds requires pushing Rounds off his script and forcing him to answer questions. (Remember: Rounds has proven really bad at answering questions!) Blend Weiland's policy and Howie's relentless attack last night, and you keep Mike Rounds out of the Senate.
- Weiland does get points for blowing raspberries at Senator Harry Reid. Weiland said he will not vote for Harry Reid or Republican Senator Mitch McConnell for majority leader, saying both men have led the Senate into dysfunction. He cleverly challenged Rounds to make the same pledge. Rounds muttered about Reid but didn't mention McConnell.
- Weiland also gets points for common sense solutions. Weiland advocated Senator Tom Harkin's bill to eliminate the income cap on Social Security tax and get Bill Gates to pay for protecting Social Security. Rounds called that a $100 billion tax hike on "job creators," which is code for reducing the middle class to serfdom under the wealthy elites backing Rounds.
- Speaking of Social Security, Pressler rejected Democratic arguments that he wants to raise the retirement age. Pressler said last night he would leave the retirement age where it is.
- Weiland pinned the Ryan budget on Rounds, saying Rounds backs the GOP House's intentions to gut Head Start, Pell Grants, and other programs that benefit the middle class. Weiland said Rounds would voucherize Medicare so old folks could take the Ryan coupons to buy insurance at Fischer Rounds. Rounds repeated his feeble dodge that he "admires" Paul Ryan's fiscal efforts but has never said he supports the Ryan budget... which is code for, "You have no idea what I'll do to you in office, and I don't have to tell you."
- Weiland also nicely flipped the Rounds argument that an obstructionist Senate is to blame for our woes. Weiland said we could have immigration reform now, with more secure borders, if Speaker Boehner would just take up the bipartisan bill the Senate passed last year 68-32.
- Rounds is now fully on board with Republican fear-mongering. Invoking ISIS and Ebola (thank goodness for one-word threats), Rounds repeated "safety and security" as much as he repeated "South Dakota common sense." He also said we should impose a travel ban to stop Ebola "right now."
- Pressler continues to look every bit the capable statesman alongside his younger, less experienced counterparts. He recites the same points in every debate—Independent caucus, obsolete bases in Italy, three-point immigration plan—but that's a focused candidate staying on message. And he keeps coming up with new images for his campaign. He's gone from naked rabbit to last night's David up against twelve goliaths (Rounds, Weiland, and PACs), with a slingshot of idealism and friendship (translation: paint your own signs, because Harriet and I can't afford them!). Pressler still talks policy and turns phrases as effectively as anyone else in the campaign.