Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Christine O'Donnell debated on Wednesday as part of their race for Delaware's Senate seat. While the race is not particularly close—Coons leads by about 18 percent—it has drawn wide national attention for O'Donnell, a Tea Party darling who defeated long-time Delaware Congressman Mike Castle in the Republican primary. Castle was expected to win the Republican primary and general election. Since her surprise victory, however, O'Donnell has been embroiled in one strange controversy after another: embezzling money from her campaign, lying about her education, accusing China of a secret plot to take over America, and insisting she is not a witch. So expectation for her performance at the debate were low. How did she and Coons do, and what does it mean for the national symbolism of their race?
- O'Donnell Stumbled, Coons Was Mean The New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise catalogs O'Donnell's stumbles during the debate, which largely came when she was asked about her past statements on issues such as evolution, masturbation, or allegations of embezzlement. "While Mr. Coons had broader range on issues and current events, he sometimes seemed mean-spirited. When Ms. O’Donnell asked whether a company he was connected to would benefit from the clean energy bill, he scoffed, 'It was difficult for me to understand from her question what she was talking about.' That could just serve to reinforce Ms. O’Donnell’s image, which has had deep resonance this election season — that of an ordinary person trying to bring common sense to Washington."
- O'Donnell a Product of Talk Show Culture The Atlantic's James Fallows compares her to Sarah Palin. "Palin was wounded by Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson in their 2008 interviews because she seemed at some level aware of what she didn't know. ... In this debate tonight, O'Donnell has not seemed uncomfortable for one second. ... O'Donnell comes across as a perfect, unflappable product of the talk-show culture. Sarah Palin knows that she is bad under open questioning -- so she avoids it, speaks only to selected audiences, is interviewed only by Fox. If she were to run for president, which I've always doubted, this would make her brittle for the unavoidable main campaign. Christine O'Donnell shows that the other path can create a better, unshakably on-message product for this era."
- It Wasn't a Debate, It Was a Talk Show Appearance Slate's David Weigel sighs, "She's a competent TV pundit who doesn't really drill down into policy. Lo and behold, she tossed off a ton of TV lines without saying much about policy. Oh, yes, she spoke about it in soundbite terms, but at every moment where Coons or moderators asked her to take her stance to its logical conclusion, she wandered into Neverland. Really, 10 minutes after she was explaining that it was unfair to judge her on her financial record, she proposed more accountability from people who used emergency rooms because they didn't have insurance. Or something." He adds, "I suppose that the Rise of the Tea Party candidate ... has led to debates with ultra-low expectations for those candidates."
- It Wasn't a Debate, It Was a Show Trial Conservative blogger Allahpundit writes, "[National Review's Jim] Geraghty says that Coons was 'terrible' and repeats another claim I heard a lot tonight, that the moderators — especially the local Delaware reporter — were deep, deep, deep in the tank for the Democrat. ('This was supposed to be a debate, not a show trial.') As noted earlier, Coons currently leads her by a wide margin on the question of which candidate better understands 'the needs and problems of people like you,' so maybe his aggressive jackassery this evening will cut into that."
- She's Not a Tea Party Bellwether Salon's Steve Kornacki urges against using her to judge the entire movement. "[Coons's] lead has nothing to do with policy, nothing to do with Coons’ campaign message, nothing to do with his strategy – and everything to do with the perception that O’Donnell is too flaky to hold major public office. That she is losing by such a wide margin in a year that is so poisonous to Democrats speaks to how profound her own liabilities are as a candidate. Unlike many other Tea Party candidates around the country, then, it would not be enough for O’Donnell to show up and confidently recite platitudes during the debate. A candidate like Johnson in Wisconsin can get away with that because – at least for now – he meets swing voters’ basic threshold for competence; they are strongly inclined to back Republicans this year, and he’s good enough."
Christine O'Donnell didn't actually debate tonight, unless by 'debate' you mean 'audition for Roger Ailes.'