Bobby Jindal finally came out of the Rose Garden last Thursday " and promptly won the first televised debate among the candidates for governor. He didn't deliver any knockout punches, but he didn't need to. He won because he didn't make any glaring mistakes and because none of his opponents knocked him down. In effect, he won by default. If you're a Jindal supporter, don't go popping any corks. The race is not over. Truth be told, it's rare for a candidate to win or lose a political debate. Probably 90 percent of the time, political debates end in a draw. Every viewer with an opinion thinks his or her candidate won. But, unless a whole lot of folks change their minds as a result of a debate, nobody actually wins or loses per se.
The debate did bring out some interesting distinctions among the candidates. Each man made some good points and saw one or two low moments as well. Here's my take on how each candidate fared:
Jindal " His best moment was his close, which began: 'This election is not about me; it's about you. This may be the most important election in our lifetime. We've got the best chance in our lifetimes to move our state forward." This is Jindal's canned speech, but he's gotten good at it " and it rings true. Jindal's low moment came in response to a question about whether he would let his religious views shape his actions as governor. The congressman acknowledged that 'we live in a pluralistic society," yet he defended teaching creationism in public schools. Creationism is a matter of faith, not science. Jindal favors teaching creationism alongside evolution under the rubric of 'scientific theories" and then letting children 'decide" which to believe. It's pandering to the Religious Right " and reminiscent of the old 1960s law that required Louisiana schools to teach a course contrasting democracy and communism. Let's see, democracy is a political order and, um, communism is an economic order. Did we really need six weeks of instruction for that?
Walter Boasso " His best moment came in defending his switch from the GOP to the Democratic Party: 'My party left me in the water for eight days during Katrina. My party lied to me. President Bush said he would do whatever it takes" to fix Louisiana, and he hasn't kept his promise. Boasso's low moment came when he said that LEAP tests would be 'on the table" for possible elimination or revision. He has been roundly criticized for that idea because LEAP tests are the cornerstone of Louisiana's nationally acclaimed accountability program. (Note to Boasso: Foster Campbell already got the teachers union endorsement; drop this one, dude.)
Foster Campbell " His strength as well as his weakness is his focus on the oil-for-income-tax swap. He articulates his plan very well again and again and again. It's pretty much his only answer, no matter what the question. His claim that the tax won't face a lengthy court challenge is absurd. Even if it's constitutional, it likely will have to work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that could take two years or more. Another high point came when he suggested opening schools year-round and in the evenings. The next governor should adopt that idea.
John Georges " He scored points recently and in the debate by noting that he was the only candidate who actually went to Jena during the protest. He handed out bottled water to the peaceful marchers. On the same question, however, he hit his low point by promising to create a multi-cultural 'governor's commission" to address racial divisions " without saying what that commission would actually do. Later, he got in a good dig at Jindal by saying he has personally created many jobs " 'unlike the congressman, who has never created a job in his life."
There are two more televised debates. Look for the exchanges to get sharper in each.