By Huntingtonnews.net Staff
West Virginia Public Broadcasting played host to the one U.S. Senate debate of the season for the four men running for the unexpired term of the late Robert Byrd. Governor Joe Manchin, Morgantown businessman John Raese, Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson, and Constitution Party candidate Jeff Becker sat at a rectangular table in the Morgantown studios of WV Public Television and took questions from state reporters.
The event was ably moderated by WVU Journalism Dean Maryanne Reed and was broadcast statewide on WV Public Television and C-Span.
The questions ranged from coal mine safety to Obamacare to keeping the Bush taxcuts in place. Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson took a contrarian position most of the evening, particularly on issues involving mining and the environment.
Meanwhile, Constitution Party candidate Jeff Becker twice suggested that the nation should have U.S. Senators appointed by the state legislatures as happened under the Constitution until the early 20th Century. In an unchoreographed moment, Becker also suggested that some people had foreknowledge of the disaster in New York City on 9/11.
But the main draw to this debate was Raese vs. Manchin, and Raese went out of his way to prove himself the true conservative on issues like Obamacare (“I want to repeal it all”) to coal mining (“The Governor and I differ on whether any carbon dioxide issues we have are manmade. I don’t buy into that.”)
Governor Manchin’s close relationship with President Obama was a continuing theme throughout the evening. One could say that the ghost of Obama was felt throughout the hour long debate.
Manchin said that he opposed three portions of the Obamacare bill but thought that the bill had merit otherwise. He credited the health care reform bill, as well as the Obama Administration’s trillion dollar Stimulus Bill with helping people. However, Manchin reiterated that he believed everyone must work for their government help.
Raese, in contrast, spoke of his desire for a return to a robust economy where government handouts weren’t as needed. “I want to see us going in a positive direction again, through free enterprise and the spirit of freedom. I want to see the United States rise again.”
“This was one of those TV debates, somewhat like the famous Nixon-Kennedy Presidential debate of 1960 where the words may have mattered less than the appearance of the candidates,” said Ellis. “Raese was very much himself, prematurely gray but otherwise fit and full of energy, as evidenced by his emphatic responses to the questions, particularly on coal and Obamacare.”
“But to be honest, Manchin looked rather listless,” said Ellis. “I’ve never seen Manchin look shellshocked, but he was nearly emotionless until the very end. Now some of this might have been due to the positioning of the stage the candidates were seating on. When Manchin looked down and to the right to the reporters, he wasn’t looking straight into the camera at the TV audience. But even without that aspect, his energy level was rather low compared to Raese’s. He almost looked like a man who knows he’s beat.”
“No real knock out blows were made by either candidate,” said Ellis. “But Raese’s strong responses are probably more suitable to the mood of this anti-Obama election year than Manchin’s “Let’s all work together” mode. It just seemed like a weak performance by Manchin, and he could have used a lift right now after that devastating Politico article about the low turnout at his function in Wheeling last weekend.”