Tonight was the U.S. Senate debate between incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and challenger Republican Congresswoman Katherine Harris. The strange thing is, despite the widespread image of Harris as “off-center”, we at the State of Sunshine believe she won the debate. Although in this case, that is not a heck of a lot to brag about.
First, she came off a little more personable – by moving around the stage and getting out from behind the podium. Second, she answered questions with specificity while Nelson talked in generalities or trailed off on a tangent.
Take Iraq, perhaps the most divisive issue in the country today. She talked about the conditions necessary to safely withdraw American troops, leaving behind a unified, democratic, and peaceful nation. She also towed the party line that “cutting and running” could be even more dangerous. Nelson said that the answer is to divide Iraq into three parts, getting the international community to help support and pay for the division of Iraq.
On the subject of North Korea, Nelson talked about using China and South Korea to apply pressure – but his answer was a bit disjointed. Basically he came off as saying a nuclear North Korea is a bad thing. Well, duh! Harris talked about the history of the issue, and the importance of keeping all options on the table. Both Harris and Nelson could not speculate if or when military action would be required.
On immigration, specifically the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. Nelson gave the better answer when he noted that when Cuba falls, there will be a ‘mass exodus’ to the United States. Harris talked about how the embargo will ultimately succeed in a free Cuba. (Sidebar: Given the fact that Cuban immigration has not been an issue for a while, why didn’t the panelist ask about Mexican immigration?)
When asked about the trade deficit with China, Nelson noted that the United States should somehow use our position of weakness as leverage with China to help with North Korea. He briefly mentioned the problem with the valuation of the yuan (renminbi), but did not explore this issue further. Harris talked about how China does not enforce American intellectual property rights. Clearly, neither of these candidates have a grasp of international economics.
When asked about oil drilling, Harris talked first about becoming energy independent through alternative energy solutions, as well as opening the Article National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Nelson correctly noted that the United States can not drill its way to energy independence, and also supports exploration of alternative energy solutions. Both noted the limitations on drilling each support: Harris 324 miles in the Gulf and 125 miles on the Atlantic, Nelson 300 miles in the Gulf.
When asked about solutions to global warming, Nelson proceed to explain what global warning was. Thank you, professor. Harris talked again about her support for alternative energy programs.
In the transition portion of the debate, Nelson asked Harris about the transfer of arms to rogue nations. Harris hit the softball by saying she opposes the transfer of arms to rogue nations. Apparently there was an issue where she voted for it and then voted against it.
Harris asked Nelson why he blocked John Bolton’s confirmation as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Nelson said he didn’t deserve it based on his job performance as arms control negotiator for the five years previously, pointing out that North Korea and Iran are pursuing nuclear programs.
The debate turned to domestic issues. Nelson asked Harris what she would do to end partisan bickering. It is a great question. Unfortunately, Harris was unable to give a great answer. She talked about working with Democrats during her tenure in the state senate as well as in Congress. She also pointed out that her family are Democrats, as she was until a few years ago.
Harris then asked Nelson why he opposes caps on medical malpractice cases. He indicated that the problem is insurance companies are not part of solutions that pit doctors against attorneys. He also noted that while he was Insurance Commissioner, he fought against rate decreases malpractice insurance companies proposed during the 1990’s – because he knew they would raise rates again when investment income decreased.
On the role of the federal government in natural disasters, both candidates support a national catastrophe fund. Nelson would work with Florida to limit coastal development, to convince the rest of the country to support a national fund. Both said that FEMA needed to be overhauled, and Nelson pointed out that it now has professional managers rather than political appointees. Good point, Senator.
The debate transitioned to discussion of property insurance. Harris read from a St. Petersburg Times article that said Nelson allowed insurance companies to set up Florida-only subsidiaries. Nelson mentioned establishing tax savings accounts to off-set the cost of insurance. Both support a national catastrophe fund to help reduce insurance premiums.
The rest of the domestic questions didn’t have the same punch as these. Nelson had a decent, if liberal, answer for the problems the Medicare “doughnut hole” is causing; while Harris simply said the problems are not that bad. (Huh?) Harris sidestepped a question on Terri Schiavo, while Nelson said that he supported access to the federal courts to bring a speedy solution. Both candidates said that, despite receiving contributions from less-than-ethical lobbyists or corporations, they can both be trusted. Harris noted that despite being a ‘polarizing figure,’ she could represent all of the people. Nelson said that “no one person has ever influenced my vote by a contribution” and managed to note that he has 16 newspaper endorsements.
All in all, if the voters ONLY see this debate, Harris comes off as qualified and capable. Nelson came off as a little “out of it”. Yes, we think Harris won this debate. But that isn’t saying much.
Winning this debate was like winning the Florida Atlantic-Florida International football game.
Oh, Mr. Bense, can you tell us again why you didn’t run? You would certainly have our vote. We don’t think we’re alone with this one.