When going to political events, always sit in the back. That's my rule.
The back row is where the reporters hang out. It gives you the best seat in the house to watch the audience, and let's face it - it's the audience's reactions that really matter at these things. In fact, you learn as much by watching the audience as you do the candidates.
So, before tonight's show started, I asked the TV reporter standing next to me if he thought there were going to be any fireworks. His response? "They always say there will be, but there never are." I'd say he was only part right. There weren't any 4th of July boomers, but some candidates definitely stepped on a few firecrackers.
Here are a few of the highlights...
One of the funniest moments came right off the bat during the introductions. Mike Steinberg focused on his theme of being an outsider wanting to cleanup the money involved in politics. "If we can get the money out of politics, we can fix Washington", he said. The funny part was seeing Robert Pittenger nodding his head in solid agreement with this after he'd just given nearly $1 million of his own money to his campaign.
The first question of the evening went to Jim Pendergraph regarding term limits. He stated he was for them, and then threw out a lofty number of 12 years. I guess that's better than the 18 years Sue Myrick has stayed, but he was quickly undercut by Leonczyk (8), Killian(6), and Lynch(4) in what quickly resembled a game of "name that tune" with an ever lower number of years. Killian has actually lived his plan introducing similar legislation in the state legislature and only staying 6 years, and Lynch has term limits written into his "contract" as the GOOOH candidate - making their statements a bit more believable.
When answering a question about how they would "fight for us" and "stand up against the good ol' boys in Washington" several painted some vivid pictures. Ken Leoncyzk - the Yale educated Minister/Lawyer - told of being 9/11 first responder, a Christian missionary to Islamic Sudan, and even a hostage negotiator during an incident in New Orleans. Jim Pendergraph predictably brought up his crusade against illegal immigration and how that was unpopular with the establishment. Robert Pittenger mentioned his fight for Medical Malpractice Reform and against Medicaid Fraud in the State Legislature. For Mike Steinberg, he fought the establishment when he decided to run against Sue Myrick before she decided to retire. For Killian, he mentioned fighting against wasteful Federal rail spending to speed up the trip from Charlotte to Raleigh by a mere 13 minutes. Being modest, he didn't even mention the fact that he'd just returned from actually fighting for us in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The first zinger of the evening came from an unexpected source, directed at an unexpected target. While answering a question about doing away with baseline budgeting, Andy Dulin zapped Dan Barry (who happened to be sitting right next to him) about whether or not Barry had come up with his budget plans while campaigning for the 8th district and not the 9th. Barry had previously been targeting the 8th this cycle but made the jump when the 9th came open. Dulin was really playing up how much he loved Iredell county, making constant references to being in Iredell early and often. In fact he mentioned it so many times, if I was an Iredell primary voter, don't be surprised if Andy Dulin is outside your door tomorrow morning asking you how many sugars you want in your coffee.
The questions remained fairly tame through the pre-planned part of the debate. Then the audience got to fire a few more direct shots. During the audience participation portion of the program things got interesting. Both Pendergraph and Pittenger were asked about Pittenger's "negative adds" that have been such a hot topic lately. Neither gave any ground. It seemed like things could get interesting for a few minutes, but then the fuse sort of fizzled.
Dulin was asked directly about his support for Chiquita subsidies and the South Corridor Light Rail. With nowhere to go, he staunchly defended those votes as good for economic development. That did not go over so well with the crowd, but he deserves points for not shying away from them. Edwin Peacock also did not shy away from his support of rail, or at least those who support rail. He didn't mention it directly, but when he answered a question about who was his "favorite politician past or present", he tossed out "our future governor, Pat McCrory" - the godfather of local rail spending. And he specifically mentioned Mr McCrory's long range infrastructure planning aka the CATS Transit Plan.
While somewhat downplaying an answer to a question about illegal immigration, John Gautier stepped on a bit of a land mine when he said "we were all immigrants once"...drawing murmurs of "legal immigrants" from the crowd. Richard Lynch humorously brought up his Cherokee Indian heritage saying his feelings on this go "way back".
Ric Killian answered a question about some missed votes in the State Legislature and would his military service get in the way of his Congressional duties. While saying it was unfortunate that someone would try to use his military service against him, he cleared up the issue by stating that the missed votes were actually due to a hip replacement surgery and not his military service - making that a moot issue. For more on this one you can see this post here from back in February.
All in all, it was a very good debate. Bob Amon, the moderator, did a very professional job keeping it on track with such a large group. We are fortunate that so many good candidates are in the field. As I said in the previous post, this is going to be a close race. My money is on Ric Killian as the best candidate to face the issues of our day. While tonight's event was informative and entertaining, nothing occurred which made me change that opinion.
9th District forum: Lower taxes, less government and 'no' to Red Line - CharlotteObserver.com
10 GOP candidates attend forum for 9th District - Statesville.com