Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

U.S. Senate Debate: What local political observers want to see

Source: Delaware First News

By Tom Byrne

October 13, 2010

The candidates for the Delaware U.S. Senate seat previously held by Vice President Joe Biden will face off in a televised debate Wednesday night at the University of Delaware’s Mitchell Hall. The event is the second debate in the Delaware Debates 2010 series presented by Delaware First Media and UD’s Center for Political Communication. DFM Vice President and veteran journalist Nancy Karibjanian is the debate moderator.  CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer will co-moderate.  CNN is showing the first hour of the 90 minute debate live.

What should voters look for in the exchange between Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Christine O’Donnell? DFM News asked a handful of political observers to weigh in. Here are the responses they submitted via email.

Is there something in particular you’ll be watching/listening for from the candidates in the debate?

“Two issues I look forward to being discussed are fiscal responsibility and the War on Terror.

From both a policy and debate scorecard perspective, I will listen closely to how the two candidates present their ideas and beliefs on fiscal responsibility and economic growth.

From moderates to conservatives in DE and across the country there is agreement that the post 2008 economic, tax and spending policies from Washington failed. It will be insufficient for a candidate to say he or she is “fiscally conservative” while supporting the recent stimulus packages, budgets, cash for clunkers, cap and trade legislation, or higher tax ideas that demonstrate a liberal approach.

Politically, this is an issue Christine O’Donnell can use to reach out to Mike Castle Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. To win the election she needs to reach more of these voters. Doing well on fiscal issues is important to this effort. Time is short but dramatic changes of political fortune are common this year.

For Chris Coons, the issue is blurring the edges of inconsistency between his “I am a fiscal conservative” language and his core big government beliefs and support of most of the Reid/Pelosi agenda. Mr. Coons is a good wordsmith and likely will do well.

The recent travel advisory for Americans in Europe because of terrorist plots and the 2010 terrorist attack in Times Square demonstrate that the War on Terror is not over. I want to know the candidates’ ideas on this subject.

I hope to hear them say that the core of the problem is “Islamic extremists” and their extreme ideology not “man-made disasters” or other amorphous term or cause. We cannot address the threat well or, in the end, help Muslims end the tyranny of this ideology if we are dishonest in our language.”

—George Ball, Organizer, Delaware Rail Splitters

“ 1. Christine O’Donnell’s Web site touts her support for privatizing the Veterans Administration [her Web site describes it as “Veterans Vouchers”.] How will she explain this?

2. Christine O’Donnell calls government debt “immoral.” She ran for Senate in 2006 and 2008. Did she at any time during those campaigns oppose any Bush Administration spending?

3. Do the candidates support insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage for preexisting conditions? If not, how would they carry this out?”

—Chuck Durante, Attorney; Fmr. Parliamentarian, Delaware State Democratic Committee

“With the debt over 10 trillion and the budget deficit for this year at 1.25 trillion, how will the candidates specifically address this future time bomb.

Will the candidates leave this problem to an outside commission similar to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). Or will they provide the budgetary leadership and propose a combination of tax increases and program cuts to address the spending issue in Washington.

Will O’Donnell cut the Defense budget as part of her balanced budget approach?

Will Coons stop using the various trust fund surpluses to mask the size of the operating deficit?”

—John Flaherty, Delaware Coalition for Open Government president

“An old Washington joke is that the United States Senate consists of 100 hundred people who wake up each morning and see a President in the mirror. Not all senators have presidential ambitions, but the unique nature and rules of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” require a special type of confidence and style of leadership for a member to be effective or, failing that, decades of tenure! Since the new junior US Senator from Delaware will obviously not have that kind of seniority, voters should be watching particularly carefully for a personal presence – the integrity, intellect, energy and humor – that will gain the widespread trust and respect of her/his peers. The candidates should also demonstrate a keen grasp of history and how that historical knowledge and interpretation helps shape their approach to addressing today’s challenges.”

—Michael Fleming, New Castle County Republican Party chair

“I will be watching for each candidate to demonstrate a solid understanding of how the domestic and international economy works. I want them both to describe their specific proposals for modernizing and expanding America’s infrastructure and making our educational system, both primary and graduate, world class and accessible for all, so that we can compete successfully with the dynamic, economically vibrant nations of the world. I will also be looking for a specific explanation as to how America will pay its bills.”

—David Hodas, Widener Law professor

“There has been so little direct contact between the nominees for the U.S. Senate seat that it will be interesting to observe how Mr. Coons and Ms. O’Donnell interact with each other. Further, one wonders whether the national media spotlight will rattle one or both candidates. Finally, whether and how either candidate mentions the long-time incumbent in the seat being contested—Joe Biden—is of relevance to many Delawareans.”

—Sam Hoff, Delaware State University political science professor

“Political scientists would normally classify Chris Coons as a strong candidate in this open seat race because he has won previous elected office and Christine O’Donnell as a weak candidate because she has not. In this campaign, however, I think that the mitigating circumstances leave both candidates in the novice category. Neither candidate has faced the high stakes pressure of a statewide race with a national scope. The debate on Wednesday will likely be covered by hundreds of journalists from around the world and will be broadcast live on national television. It takes a strong sense of self and a great deal of self confidence to remain calm under this intense pressure and it remains to be seen if either candidate is able to perform under these conditions. Many will be watching this debate closely to see if either candidate falters under the pressure.

Christine O’Donnell is in an especially difficult position in this race because she is currently running behind Chris Coons who holds a double-digit lead in recent polls. Because of her until recently retracted ban on interviews with all but the smallest local media outlets and her lack of public campaign events, most voters are likely unsure about where she stands on the issues. It will be interesting to see if Ms. O’Donnell uses the debate to try to gain ground on her opponent or if she executes a safe strategy and attempts to not lose rather than win. This debate offers the chance to speak directly to Delawareans and establish her issue positions. The debate also represents a chance to reinvent her public image. To this point a great fuss has made over her appearances on Bill Maher’s show, and her own campaign advertising, and this debate will offer the opportunity to establish for voters that she has matured since she appeared on his show and that recent caricatures of her are off base.

Chris Coons is in a similar position to that of Vice President Biden when he debated Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election. In 2008, Mr. Biden walked a precarious line of trying to demonstrate his qualifications for office without appearing to beat up on the less experienced Governor of Alaska. I think Mr. Coons has to be wary of the same trap that and make sure that he use his debate answers to establish his qualifications and positions without appearing to attack his opponent. In this regard, Mr. Coons is likely to be the beneficiary of Delaware’s less-aggressive political history in which vitriol and attack ads have not been the norm.”

—Jason Mycoff, University of Delaware associate professor of political science

Is there an issue that hasn’t been widely discussed or covered in the race that you’d like to hear the candidates weigh in on?

“Crisis of state unfunded pension liability-Federal bailout

Estimates of the 50 state unfunded pension liability range from $1 trillion (Pew Foundation) and $3 trillion (Northwestern University and Chicago Booth School of Business researchers). The total excludes unfunded municipality pension liabilities.

The federal issue is whether federal “bailout” tax dollars should be used to solve the issue.

There already is proposed federal legislation to allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to bailout the distressed Teamsters Union’s pension fund. Passing this legislation would create a precedent and mechanism for a state pension bailout.

In addressing the issue, the candidates should indicate whether they support the proposed federal Teamsters’ bailout and their position on federal dollars for state pension unfunded liability.”

—George Ball, Organizer, Delaware Rail Splitters

“1. I would like to hear the candidates’ views on what the federal government should be doing to rehabilitate the nation’s infrastructure. This was extensively discussed in 2009, but not very much since.

2. Christine O’Donnell has spoken about ‘crushing tax burden’ on Americans. Exactly who is being crushed, and what would she do differently?

3. Christine O’Donnell fashions herself as the pro-life candidate. Would she favor a state’s ability to outlaw birth control pills?”

—Chuck Durante, Attorney; Fmr. Parliamentarian, Delaware State Democratic Committee

“With over 100,000 troops stationed at various military bases overseas, isn’t it time for those countries where the bases are located to shoulder the financial burden of the United States Defense umbrella?”

—John Flaherty, Delaware Coalition for Open Government president

“The US Senate plays a particularly influential institutional role in the shaping of foreign policy and overseeing our national security. There has been little attention to these issues during the campaign and I’d like to hear more about what the candidates perceive to be the three greatest strategic threats to both our short and long-term national security, and how they propose to deal with them.”

—Michael Fleming, New Castle County Republican Party chair

“I want both candidates to address how they would reduce the mercury pollution that falls on Delaware from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest.”

—David Hodas, Widener Law professor

“While the general issue of the deficit has been mentioned, I would like to know how each candidate will seek to reduce the $1.2 trillion deficit from FY 2010. For instance, what is each candidate’s position on the following deficit-reducing proposals?:

1. A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution
2. Altering Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution to grant the president line item veto authority
3. Eliminating all earmarks, or local pork-barrel projects
4. Requiring a two-thirds majority for passage of appropriations bills

Recently, outgoing Delaware Senator Ted KAUFMAN gave his farewell speech in which he supported retaining the filibuster as a floor technique in the Senate. What is the position of each candidate on the use and value of the filibuster?

In the area of national defense, the United States has been criticized for the use of Predator drones to kill suspected terrorists in sovereign nations which we are not at war with, such as Pakistan. What should be the American position on the targeting of enemy forces with drones? Isn’t such killing akin to assassination and if so why doesn’t the U.S. officially legalize it?”

—Sam Hoff, Delaware State University political science professor

“I would like to see an in-depth discussion of specific policy positions from each candidate. I am confident that the moderators of the debate will offer opportunities for each candidate to present their issue positions. To date, I have not heard much from the O’Donnell campaign on where she stands on the issues. In part this is due to her media strategy of eschewing press coverage but even her own campaign website is quite limited in terms of issue positions. The O’Donnell campaign website features a prominently placed fundraising request but only a few sentences about political principles rather than political issues.

The Coons campaign has been much more forthcoming than the O’Donnell campaign with positions on a wide variety of issues affecting Delawareans and the nation at large. The Coons campaign website includes loosely defined policy proposals on many important issues. I hope to hear more about these positions during the debate.”

—Jason Mycoff, University of Delaware associate professor of political science

The candidates for the Delaware U.S. Senate seat previously held by Vice President Joe Biden will face off in a televised debate Wednesday night at the University of Delaware’s Mitchell Hall. The event is the second debate in the Delaware Debates 2010 series presented by Delaware First Media and UD’s Center for Political Communication. DFM Vice President and veteran journalist Nancy Karibjanian is the debate moderator.  CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer will co-moderate.  CNN is showing the first hour of the 90 minute debate live.

 

What should voters look for in the exchange between Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Christine O’Donnell? DFM News asked a handful of political observers to weigh in. Here are the responses they submitted via email.

 

Is there something in particular you’ll be watching/listening for from the candidates in the debate?

 

“Two issues I look forward to being discussed are fiscal responsibility and the War on Terror.

 

From both a policy and debate scorecard perspective, I will listen closely to how the two candidates present their ideas and beliefs on fiscal responsibility and economic growth.

 

From moderates to conservatives in DE and across the country there is agreement that the post 2008 economic, tax and spending policies from Washington failed. It will be insufficient for a candidate to say he or she is “fiscally conservative” while supporting the recent stimulus packages, budgets, cash for clunkers, cap and trade legislation, or higher tax ideas that demonstrate a liberal approach.

 

Politically, this is an issue Christine O’Donnell can use to reach out to Mike Castle Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. To win the election she needs to reach more of these voters. Doing well on fiscal issues is important to this effort. Time is short but dramatic changes of political fortune are common this year.

 

For Chris Coons, the issue is blurring the edges of inconsistency between his “I am a fiscal conservative” language and his core big government beliefs and support of most of the Reid/Pelosi agenda. Mr. Coons is a good wordsmith and likely will do well.

 

The recent travel advisory for Americans in Europe because of terrorist plots and the 2010 terrorist attack in Times Square demonstrate that the War on Terror is not over. I want to know the candidates’ ideas on this subject.

 

I hope to hear them say that the core of the problem is “Islamic extremists” and their extreme ideology not “man-made disasters” or other amorphous term or cause. We cannot address the threat well or, in the end, help Muslims end the tyranny of this ideology if we are dishonest in our language.”

 

—George Ball, Organizer, Delaware Rail Splitters

 

“ 1. Christine O’Donnell’s Web site touts her support for privatizing the Veterans Administration [her Web site describes it as “Veterans Vouchers”.] How will she explain this?

 

2. Christine O’Donnell calls government debt “immoral.” She ran for Senate in 2006 and 2008. Did she at any time during those campaigns oppose any Bush Administration spending?

 

3. Do the candidates support insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage for preexisting conditions? If not, how would they carry this out?”

 

—Chuck Durante, Attorney; Fmr. Parliamentarian, Delaware State Democratic Committee

 

“With the debt over 10 trillion and the budget deficit for this year at 1.25 trillion, how will the candidates specifically address this future time bomb.

 

Will the candidates leave this problem to an outside commission similar to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). Or will they provide the budgetary leadership and propose a combination of tax increases and program cuts to address the spending issue in Washington.

 

Will O’Donnell cut the Defense budget as part of her balanced budget approach?

 

Will Coons stop using the various trust fund surpluses to mask the size of the operating deficit?”

 

—John Flaherty, Delaware Coalition for Open Government president

 

“An old Washington joke is that the United States Senate consists of 100 hundred people who wake up each morning and see a President in the mirror. Not all senators have presidential ambitions, but the unique nature and rules of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” require a special type of confidence and style of leadership for a member to be effective or, failing that, decades of tenure! Since the new junior US Senator from Delaware will obviously not have that kind of seniority, voters should be watching particularly carefully for a personal presence – the integrity, intellect, energy and humor – that will gain the widespread trust and respect of her/his peers. The candidates should also demonstrate a keen grasp of history and how that historical knowledge and interpretation helps shape their approach to addressing today’s challenges.”

 

—Michael Fleming, New Castle County Republican Party chair

 

“I will be watching for each candidate to demonstrate a solid understanding of how the domestic and international economy works. I want them both to describe their specific proposals for modernizing and expanding America’s infrastructure and making our educational system, both primary and graduate, world class and accessible for all, so that we can compete successfully with the dynamic, economically vibrant nations of the world. I will also be looking for a specific explanation as to how America will pay its bills.”

 

—David Hodas, Widener Law professor

 

“There has been so little direct contact between the nominees for the U.S. Senate seat that it will be interesting to observe how Mr. Coons and Ms. O’Donnell interact with each other. Further, one wonders whether the national media spotlight will rattle one or both candidates. Finally, whether and how either candidate mentions the long-time incumbent in the seat being contested—Joe Biden—is of relevance to many Delawareans.”

 

—Sam Hoff, Delaware State University political science professor

 

“Political scientists would normally classify Chris Coons as a strong candidate in this open seat race because he has won previous elected office and Christine O’Donnell as a weak candidate because she has not. In this campaign, however, I think that the mitigating circumstances leave both candidates in the novice category. Neither candidate has faced the high stakes pressure of a statewide race with a national scope. The debate on Wednesday will likely be covered by hundreds of journalists from around the world and will be broadcast live on national television. It takes a strong sense of self and a great deal of self confidence to remain calm under this intense pressure and it remains to be seen if either candidate is able to perform under these conditions. Many will be watching this debate closely to see if either candidate falters under the pressure.

 

Christine O’Donnell is in an especially difficult position in this race because she is currently running behind Chris Coons who holds a double-digit lead in recent polls. Because of her until recently retracted ban on interviews with all but the smallest local media outlets and her lack of public campaign events, most voters are likely unsure about where she stands on the issues. It will be interesting to see if Ms. O’Donnell uses the debate to try to gain ground on her opponent or if she executes a safe strategy and attempts to not lose rather than win. This debate offers the chance to speak directly to Delawareans and establish her issue positions. The debate also represents a chance to reinvent her public image. To this point a great fuss has made over her appearances on Bill Maher’s show, and her own campaign advertising, and this debate will offer the opportunity to establish for voters that she has matured since she appeared on his show and that recent caricatures of her are off base.

 

Chris Coons is in a similar position to that of Vice President Biden when he debated Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election. In 2008, Mr. Biden walked a precarious line of trying to demonstrate his qualifications for office without appearing to beat up on the less experienced Governor of Alaska. I think Mr. Coons has to be wary of the same trap that and make sure that he use his debate answers to establish his qualifications and positions without appearing to attack his opponent. In this regard, Mr. Coons is likely to be the beneficiary of Delaware’s less-aggressive political history in which vitriol and attack ads have not been the norm.”

 

—Jason Mycoff, University of Delaware associate professor of political science

 

Is there an issue that hasn’t been widely discussed or covered in the race that you’d like to hear the candidates weigh in on?

 

“Crisis of state unfunded pension liability-Federal bailout

 

Estimates of the 50 state unfunded pension liability range from $1 trillion (Pew Foundation) and $3 trillion (Northwestern University and Chicago Booth School of Business researchers). The total excludes unfunded municipality pension liabilities.

 

The federal issue is whether federal “bailout” tax dollars should be used to solve the issue.

 

There already is proposed federal legislation to allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to bailout the distressed Teamsters Union’s pension fund. Passing this legislation would create a precedent and mechanism for a state pension bailout.

 

In addressing the issue, the candidates should indicate whether they support the proposed federal Teamsters’ bailout and their position on federal dollars for state pension unfunded liability.”

 

—George Ball, Organizer, Delaware Rail Splitters

 

“1. I would like to hear the candidates’ views on what the federal government should be doing to rehabilitate the nation’s infrastructure. This was extensively discussed in 2009, but not very much since.

 

2. Christine O’Donnell has spoken about ‘crushing tax burden’ on Americans. Exactly who is being crushed, and what would she do differently?

 

3. Christine O’Donnell fashions herself as the pro-life candidate. Would she favor a state’s ability to outlaw birth control pills?”

 

—Chuck Durante, Attorney; Fmr. Parliamentarian, Delaware State Democratic Committee

 

“With over 100,000 troops stationed at various military bases overseas, isn’t it time for those countries where the bases are located to shoulder the financial burden of the United States Defense umbrella?”

 

—John Flaherty, Delaware Coalition for Open Government president

 

“The US Senate plays a particularly influential institutional role in the shaping of foreign policy and overseeing our national security. There has been little attention to these issues during the campaign and I’d like to hear more about what the candidates perceive to be the three greatest strategic threats to both our short and long-term national security, and how they propose to deal with them.”

 

—Michael Fleming, New Castle County Republican Party chair

 

“I want both candidates to address how they would reduce the mercury pollution that falls on Delaware from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest.”

 

—David Hodas, Widener Law professor

 

“While the general issue of the deficit has been mentioned, I would like to know how each candidate will seek to reduce the $1.2 trillion deficit from FY 2010. For instance, what is each candidate’s position on the following deficit-reducing proposals?:

 

1. A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution

2. Altering Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution to grant the president line item veto authority

3. Eliminating all earmarks, or local pork-barrel projects

4. Requiring a two-thirds majority for passage of appropriations bills

 

Recently, outgoing Delaware Senator Ted KAUFMAN gave his farewell speech in which he supported retaining the filibuster as a floor technique in the Senate. What is the position of each candidate on the use and value of the filibuster?

 

In the area of national defense, the United States has been criticized for the use of Predator drones to kill suspected terrorists in sovereign nations which we are not at war with, such as Pakistan. What should be the American position on the targeting of enemy forces with drones? Isn’t such killing akin to assassination and if so why doesn’t the U.S. officially legalize it?”

 

—Sam Hoff, Delaware State University political science professor

 

“I would like to see an in-depth discussion of specific policy positions from each candidate. I am confident that the moderators of the debate will offer opportunities for each candidate to present their issue positions. To date, I have not heard much from the O’Donnell campaign on where she stands on the issues. In part this is due to her media strategy of eschewing press coverage but even her own campaign website is quite limited in terms of issue positions. The O’Donnell campaign website features a prominently placed fundraising request but only a few sentences about political principles rather than political issues.

 

The Coons campaign has been much more forthcoming than the O’Donnell campaign with positions on a wide variety of issues affecting Delawareans and the nation at large. The Coons campaign website includes loosely defined policy proposals on many important issues. I hope to hear more about these positions during the debate.”

 

—Jason Mycoff, University of Delaware associate professor of political science

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