In this debate-obsessed political culture, it may be odd to hear the phrase, "sole senate debate," but that is indeed exactly what happened on Wednesday night at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Democratic Senator Kirstin Gillibrand faced off against Republican New York City attorney Wendy Long, who has never before run for public office. Gillibrand was appointed to her by then-Governor David Paterson in 2009 to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Hillary Clinton, who resigned from the senate in order to become Barack Obama's Secretary of State. Gillibrand subsequently won a 2010 special election, earning the right to serve the remainder of Clinton's term, which ends in January 2013.
Gillibrand is undoubtedly the heavy favorite in the race. According to the latest independent poll, which was conducted in September by Quinnipiac Univerity, she leads Long by 37 points. Long has requested more debates, but with such an enormous lead, Gillibrand has declined. The size of the lead can hardly be surprising in this, one of the bluest states in the nation. For instance, neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney campaign here, but they both have spent lots of time fundraising in this state. For all intents and purposes, unless you're a New Yorker with a large campaign donation in one hand, you'll likely never get the opportunity to shake a presidential candidates' hand with the other. Damn you, Electoral College!
The only way this debate was going to move the polls strongly in Longshot's favor was if Gillibrand gave viewers the middle finger while announcing her undying loyalty to both Osama bin Laden and the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately for Long, that didn't happen.
8:00pm: That debate could not have gotten over soon enough. The moderators' questions were like a Jackson Pollock painting — all over the place. They had a "lightning round" halfway through the debate where the candidates could only respond with yes or no questions. Such hard-hitting queries included, "Do you write your own tweets?" and "Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?"
7:58pm: Long says in her closing statement that this isn't an election, but "an emergency." Says we need to "cut red tape." I've never heard that before. Ever. Says, "Go Yankees, and go C.C. Sabbathia." Too little to late for both the Yankees and Long.
7:57pm: Closing statement. KG says New York can lead the way in economic recovery by focusing on its strengths. World class universities, great workers, yada yada yada.
7:56pm: Long suggests that illegal immigrants shouldn't be deported if they're willing to serve in the military. So instead of deporting them to Latin America, she can send them to Iran.
7:54pm: Long says there aren't any health risks to fracking. Really? Like none at all? Thankfully, the audience laughed. Long says methane exposure is no big deal because it's totally natural!
7:53pm: Longshot cavalierly says that the concerns over fracking are "completely phony" and that it's totally safe. Who knew?!
7:51pm: An exchange on hydrofracking leads KG to use the word "radium" in a senate debate. Is this a first?
7:49pm: Moderator asks KG about 38 questions, to which she replied, "In one minute?"
7:46pm: KG says we should leave Afghanistan now, which is not the position of Obama, who plans a withdrawal of forces in 2014, with a potential American presence there until 2024.
7:44pm: KG says U.S. and Israel are "hand in glove." Long is hitting Obama for being insufficiently pro-Israel, even though he still sends billions of dollars per year in unconditional aid to the country, and blocks measures at the U.N. that Israel opposes.
7:43pm: KG and Longshot are all but tripping over themselves trying to pander to the pro-Israel crowd. What a sad spectacle this is.
7:39pm: Longshot is asked what she could wor with Obama on. Says, cutting spending. Gillibrand asked where she'd agree with Romney. Cites Iran not obtaining nuclear weapons and Middle East peace. KG questioned on some Jews' apprehension about Obama's supposed lack of support of Israel.
7:38pm: This is one of the most haphazard, half-assed, poorly-run U.S. Senate debates I have ever seen in my life. There is no logic to the order of the questions. Everything seems disjointed, as the moderators keep jumping around from one topic to the next.
7:35pm: Long grilling Gillibrand on embattled NYC Councilman Vito Lopez.
7:34pm: It feels like Long is asking KG a lengthy question that's been going on since I was in the third grade.
7:32pm: Strangely, that lightning round appeared to deflate some of the tension in this debate, at least for now.
7:31pm: Actual question: "Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?" WTF? Is this a senate debate or a speed date at an S&M club?
7:30pm: Actual question: Should the names of people who frequent prositutes be made public? What a dumb segment this is.
7:29pm: This is a most injudicious use of questions in this "lightning round."
7:28pm: Lighting round? Answers can only be yes or no. Haha!
7:27pm: Long says the way to stop gun violence is to stop criminals, and that criminals don't care what the law is. KG asserts her support for the Second Amendment, but says she's been outspoken on common-sense legislation to restrict gun proliferation.
7:22pm: KG is asked who her model Supreme Court justice is. She says Sonia Sotomayor. Long says Sotomayor doesn't follow the Constitution. Long says she admires Clarence Thomas. Yikes. Also says Samuel Alito, the retired liberal John Paul Stevens, and Chief Justice John Roberts. She sounds like Scott Brown in the October 1 Massachusetts senate debate; she hedged by naming four justices, one of which doesn't belong!
7:21pm: I am way too distracted by the ad-laden backdrop for this debate, which seems more suitable for a Jets post-game press conference.
7:18pm: KG hits Longshot on her support for the ill-fated Blunt amendment earlier this year in the U.S. Senate, which would have allowed any employer to refuse to provide contraception coverage on their health insurance plans as long as they had some vague "moral objection" to doing so, which goes beyond a religious exemption. The Blunt amendment would've reversed the Obamacare provision that employers provide that option to employees on health insurance plans (with certain exceptions).
7:17pm: Gillibrand slamming the Republican Party for its anti-women's rights stance, most notably their insistence that employers be able to deny contraceptives on employer health care plans.
7:15pm: Federalism is factoring into Long's response on abortion. Says she is personally pro-life, but says the matter should be left to the states. Long says no one in New York is talking about abortion.
7:14pm: Long is being asked about her criticism of Roe v. Wade. Says "most legal scholars" say it's a bad decision. I don't know about that one!
7:13pm: Long says, "We need to cut," and, "We need tax reform" for sure. Good luck getting some specifics out of that. Long has pledged not to raise taxes ever.
7:12pm: Long is interrupting Gillibrand like there's no tomorrow.
7:06pm: Long: People create jobs. Government doesn't create jobs.
7:02pm: Debate underway. Gillibrand forgets to thank everyone for being there and launches right into her opening statement.
6:49pm: Real Clear Politics provides the list of independent polls in this race so far:
6:37pm: Fun fact: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once called Gillibrand, "the hottest member" of the U.S. Senate. Gillibrand also came in third on The Hill's list of the 50 Most Beautiful People in Washington D.C. Third? I can only imagine what first and second look like!