It was great to see these two candidates finally square off. I attempted to liveblog the debate to give those who didn't watch a better feel for how it went. It was also be aired on C-SPAN tomorrow night for those who missed it. Below are my initial impressions:
Carney won the toss and started the debate by stressing that he is a humble, bipartisan representative of a district who lives within its means. Hackett wasted no time in getting to the matter at hand by bringing up Carney's failure to hold more debates. He used the remaining time to detail his background and professional experiences.
The first question out of the gate utilized Hackett's opening remarks and asked if one debate was adequate. Carney emphasized he held numerous town hall meetings and he was readily accessibly to his constituents. He also noted that other important offices (the Vice-President) only hold one debate so this was no out of the ordinary. Hackett went right for the jugular early by saying Carney is hiding his record by continually saying one thing in the district and doing a different thing in Washington. This was a theme that Hackett hammered home throughout the debate (Washington Carney vs. District Carney).
In regards to the bailout, Hackett scolded the "must pass" bailout as doing nothing. He recommended a capital gains tax reduction to 0% for the next two years so more capital can flow into the markets and self-correct many of the liquidity problems. Hackett preempted Carney here by saying while Carney had not voted for the financial rescue, he did vote for the auto industry loan, the Fannie/Freddie bailout, and rescue for the sugar industry.
Carney noted that he had talked to bank presidents in the district and found they were properly regulated as well as financially sound. It was Wall Street which was the cancer. Because the Paulson plan was all Congress looked at and didn't have further hearings, he didn't feel comfortable voting for it.
Social Security provided the first contentious issue of the night. The candidates squabbled over who was scaring seniors more as Hackett made the program appear in dire straights while Carney exaggerated the risk implications of Hackett's market proposals. Carney suggested that Social Security was in sound financial shape as the trust fund had trillions of dollars and was earning interest. Hackett used the bailout as an example of Washington waiting until a crisis to do something and Social Security was another issue of waiting until a crisis.
The issue of earmarks also brought some fireworks. Most notably, Hackett stated that the district had lost $20 million in the transition from Sherwood to Carney and this was a problem with relying on earmarks for revenue. He followed that up by claiming Carney had received $100,000 in donations from companies that he provided earmarks for.
Carney allowed the statistical claims to go unchecked while suggesting earmarking was a beneficial process for the district. Less than 1% of federal budget is earmarks, but that single percent has an exponential impact on the projects in the district: it wouldn't be there if it wasn't for earmarks. Carney even went so far as to defend Nancy Pelosi's earmarking (money inserted in the farm bill for her district) by claiming Pelosi was "saving her people."
The finance of the campaigns was also brought up. While Carney acknowledged he spent more money thus far, he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for individual donations because he didn't have deep pockets like Hackett. Hackett suggested imposing term limits for campaigns to eliminate some of the money involved (2 terms for Senate and 10 years for House) and changing McCain-Feingold.
The most informative portion of the debate was on Hackett's tax liens. Hackett clarified that these were all legitimate challenges and not failure to pay taxes. For instance, he noted a $500 fine from the PA Department of Revenue. The taxes were paid by check and not through the electronic system (which he wasn't approved for). Hackett disputed this fine levied against his business. Carney didn't buy it and brought up the fine in Williamsport to which Hackett responded that it was a payment to the wrong party--much different than not paying as Carney implied.
The debate was rounded out by illegal immigration and military spending. On immigration, Carney stated there was a need for more personnel and tools to fight illegal immigration. Hackett agreed on no amnesty for illegals, but hammered Carney on his vote to de-fund construction of the fence. Carney rebutted the challenge by noting Hackett employed an illegal immigrant and used it as an example of the need to crack down on employers. The only big difference between the two on defense was which country was more of an immediate threat: Pakistan of Iran. Carney suggested it was Pakistan, and Hackett voted for Iran.
In their closing statements, Hackett repeated the points in his opener and noted the need to change politicians to change the culture of Washington. He also brought up the content of the Specter ad by suggesting one-party rule is dangerous. Carney closed by stating there was no bipartisanship coming from Hackett. Carney's credentials--as provided by the National Journal and his bipartisan parents--were much more fitting for the district.
My initial impression is that this debate was much better to watch than any of the presidential debates. It was much more entertaining, combative, and substantive. I think Hackett won the debate, but they both are very qualified politicians. I found Hackett's delivery to be superior and sharper. Carney stumbled over his words at points throughout the debate and didn't appear to get into a rhythm. Overall, I thought he was spotty throughout. [As a side note, I was curious who Chris Carney kept smiling and winking at to his right?]
Substantively, Hackett was ready to challenge the points against his character and prodded Carney on his vulnerabilities. However, Carney did deliver the best line of the night. During the immigration portion, Carney said that the border is not the NFL: two feet in bounds does not mean citizenship.