Monday, June 26, 2006

Not Even Close

"Not even close" is how I would describe the margin of victory of Bob Menendez over Tom Kean Jr. in the first two New Jersey senate debates. Sen. Menendez comes across as polished, thoughtful, and inventive in his responses, while Kean Jr. is visibly attempting to remember talking points and memorized lines; the latter's intonation and verbal rhythm are not in sinc, though he has been aggressive in attempting Menendez. Of course, the story line for both candidates is already being played out: Kean Jr. attempts to connect Menendez to Hudson County politicos, corruption, and Corzine's tax increases, while Menendez reminds voters that the latter votes lock and step with the Bush administration and is beholden to industry interests.

In the two early debates thus far, Menendez has been sharper, partly because of his political experience in such a debate setting, I would think, and Kean Jr. tonight was particularly ineffective in his discussion of foreign policy. At two points, Kean Jr. tried to avoid following up on a question concerning what to change about foreign policy concerning Israel and Palestine; talk about seeing a deer caught in the headlights. Menendez may be most effective in his rebuttals and counterpoints, however, and when he actually discusses the financial strains that New Jersey citizens are under because of heavy taxation, something he needs to do more often.

The questions from the panelists, which from these evening featured prominently from NJN News, are incisive for the most part and certainly quickly cut to perceived weaknesses in the candidates: Kean Jr.'s privileged name leading to his nomination, Menendez's former aide receiving lucrative contracts, and Kean Jr. possibly having Pres. Bush on the campaign trail, among others. The panelists were quick to point out when a candidate didn't really address the crux of what was asked, too.

But for tonight's debate and yesterday's one, Menendez has been noticeably stronger in his responses and his articulation of his views. As someone who thinks he is the better candidate for the N.J. senate position, I hope he continues to do this so successfully.


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