I was in the audience last night at Fisher Plaza for the big Inslee-McKenna gubernatorial debate. A few observations on how it went down.
Inslee walked in wearing a blue tie. McKenna wore a red one. The moderator made a point of saying his tie was green. All very predictable, and kind of a metaphor for how the entire debate played out.
No surprises, all of it a little cliched. If I had to describe the debate in one word, I’d have to say: BORING. I don’t think either candidate scored many points against the other, much less landed a knockout blow. In part that was due to the format, which was a little stilted and awkward (too many questioners, no follow up questions). But mostly it was that both candidates stuck to what is by now well-trodden ground.
This debate was kind of boring, and more or less a tie. But that is good news for Inslee. McKenna, as he has been in previous debates, was a little wonkier and more detailed. But he was also snipey and I thought came across as a bit of a know it all. And his jabs didn’t have a lot of force because they didn’t hammer away at a consistent theme. Does Rob think Jay is too much of a tax-and-spend liberal? Too status quo? Too partisan? Too beholden to Olympia interests? I couldn’t tell.
Jay was at his best with the vision thing. Talking about how Washington has led through two innovation revolutions in aerospace and software, and how we are on the cusp of a third in biotech and clean energy, I thought he was almost–dare I say it–Reaganesque in his optimism. He looks more gubernatorial than McKenna–yes, appearances matter–and there is a reason voters consider him more likeable. If I have a criticism of his performance it is that he did not counterpunch as effectively as he could have when Rob poked at him, and at several points ran out of time mid-answer. Oh, and he needs to dial back on the references to “lean management.”
Overall, like I said I thought this debate was kind of boring, and more or less a tie. But that is good news for Inslee. Jay is ahead in this race, with a small but apparently durable 4-5 point lead. McKenna needs to change that dynamic, and time is running short. He needs a game changer, and he didn’t get it last night.
There is one more big debate to come, so McKenna will get another chance. But my sense after the debate was that the Inslee were pleased, and a little relieved, and I’d guess that the McKenna folks know they missed an opportunity here. A wash is not good enough for their guy. In this state, in this race, tie goes to the Democrat.