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Voters’ take on Senate debate only one that really matters

One of the downsides of being a panelist in a political debate is that people always ask “Who won?”

That happened after Thursday’s debate between Patty Murray and Dino Rossi, and my answer was: “I don’t know.”

Reporters hate to admit that, but seeing a debate in person is different from seeing it on TV. We’re usually looking elsewhere, trying to figure out how long it is before we ask the next question and hoping to not tip over the water glass while we wait.

The thousands who saw it on TV get to decide who won. So don’t ask me, I’m only sure of who lost – the bozo who brandished a meat cleaver at demonstrators outside the studio before the debate and got cited by police.

And don’t ask the candidates, because on Thursday, like after most debates, the candidates come out for an obligatory press conference, where they are asked the obligatory question: “How do you think you did?”

Not surprisingly, both thought they did well, but their opponent didn’t. “I feel great about it,” Murray said, reiterating what she repeated several times during the debate, that she had answered questions but Rossi had not.

“I think it went well,” Rossi said. Although he was somewhat surprised that he didn’t get a question about the bailouts, he was sure he answered the questions but Murray didn’t.

From the set, it seemed each had instances where they preferred to answer the questions they wanted to be asked, rather than the questions actually put to them. Maybe it looked different on television.


Relying on stock phrases and talking points is a standard feature of debates. Before Thursday’s debate the Murray campaign released a “bingo” card with stock Rossi phrases like “18-year incumbent,” which he is fond of reminding voters that Murray is; “tall fence and high gate,” which he wants along the American border; and “waxed floors,” which was a job he had to help pay for college.

The Rossi campaign apparently had no such game on Thursday, but if they do for tonight’s event, Murray phrases might include “I get up every morning,” which she says she does to work for Washington voters; “MS,” which her father contracted when she was a teenager; or “targeted investments,” which she prefers over “earmark.”

While there’s a big push to get college students “re-energized” for the election, one can only hope that students don’t devise a drinking game that requires participants to take a swig or a shot when these stock phrases are uttered. A liver is a terrible thing to waste.

And the winner is …

Viewers probably won’t be shocked that both campaigns declared victory almost immediately. First up was the Washington State Republican Party, claiming a win for Rossi. Amazingly enough, they declared victory at 8:01 p.m. with a written statement quoting state chairman Luke Esser. So folks at the state GOP can either type really fast or were predisposed to declare Rossi the victor. I’m guessing it’s probably the former.

Rossi’s campaign declared victory at 8:08 p.m., and the Murray campaign at 8:18 p.m., apparently delayed by issuing a challenge to something Rossi said in the closing minutes.

Strangely enough, the Rossi and Murray camps agreed on one key point: that the debate offered the voters a “clear choice” in the election. Considering that both sides have commercials suggesting the opponent is so low they need an extension ladder to reach pond scum, that may be welcome news to voters thinking there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between these folks.

There’s another debate tonight in Seattle, which will be carried on KXLY-TV’s extra digital channel.

Spin Control, a weekly column by veteran reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at blogs/spincontrol.
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