By Michael Bryan
In every race there are a few key issues that will decide which way persuadable voters will break. In this race, both campaigns and their proxies seem to be signaling that there are two major arguments that will decide this race: entitlements and jobs. Barber missed his opportunity to set the record straight on the former, and scored a solid hit on the latter.
Barber's campaign is also focusing on a character theme against Kelly: he's inconsistent. He's a radical who is now trying to moderate his positions. Barber did a generally good job of making that case, with one significant misjudgment.
See video and details after the click...
Entitlement programs, specifically Medicare, in my estimation, is what put the GOP in control of the House in 2010. They hammered incessantly on the lie that Obamacare would cut $500 billion from Medicare. The result was a huge turnout from older voters who broke strongly for the GOP. The GOP suceeded in scaring the crap out of seniors based on that lie.
Now the Kelly campaign and the "independent" expenditure commitees supporting Kelly are pushing that same lie again against Barber. This issue will largely decide which way older voters break in this season, both in the Special and the General. Combating this lie effectively is key to Barber's election.
During the debate, Kelly told the Medicare lie once again - unfortunately, without serious contradiction by Barber.
Instead Barber chose to counter that he did not vote for Obamacare. This was a missed opportunity. Not only is it a weak rejoinder which begs the hypothetical of whether he would have voted for it (which Barber side-stepped poorly, in my opinion), it fails to counter the GOP's untruthful narrative.
Kelly scored a victory in getting away with telling his lie to Barber's face during the debate without direct contradiction.
For those preparing Barber for debate, this is how it is done:
Barber: "Let me address first what Mr. Kelly just said. Mr. Kelly you consistently lie that "Obamacare" cuts $500 billion from Medicare. The truth is that Medicare benefits will not be cut by one thin dime by "Obamacare": "Obamacare" saves money by limiting reimbursements to providers in coming years, not by cutting recipient's benefits. Moreover, those same payment limits are in the Ryan Budget Plan, which you support. Stop lying to Arizona's seniors. Stop your scare tactics. I will always protect Medicare benefits, while you want to turn the program into a mere coupon to buy private insurance. Stop your lies, Mr. Kelly. Pull those ads that are lying to our seniors."
Barber could have created a compelling counter-narrative that contradicts the big lie that won't die and put Kelly on the defensive for his support of the radical Ryan Budget. That is an opportunity Barber must not miss again
Jobs, and the respective candidates' proposals for creating more of them, will determine the vote of those independents who are hurting from the Great Recession. The candidates are telling very different stories about how to accomplish this task. Ron Barber did a very effective job in this debate of selling his vision, and denigrating Kelly's.
Kelly's messaging has been rather annoyingly consistent, though admittedly admirably disciplined, on this point: drill here, drill now; cheap American energy and related jobs; slash regulation; slash taxes.
Here's a sample of Kelly's fantasy-based economic policies:
Barber, in his response, planted what was perhaps the most solid one-liner of the debate:
"I don't know that there are any oil wells available in Arizona. And I think, Jesse, you've probably been spending a little bit too much time in Texas, 'cause we don't have oil here for jobs."
He then spoke of his own vision of a high-tech, solar driven Arizona economy:
On a related theme that arose during the debate, Kelly may have made a serious misstep that could cost him dearly. Barber pointed out that tax subsidies to grow alternative energy markets is a good idea, and that we really need to examine ending those for the monstrously profitable oil industry:
This is a deeply popular position among voters across the political spectrum - one which the GOP does not share. In response to Barber's comments, Kelly firmly stuck his foot in his mouth. Kelly claimed that subsidies to oil companies are laughable, as oil companies pay the same taxes as any other company. Given Exxon's famous zero federal income tax bill on $10 billion in profits in 2009, Kelly sounds like an idiot. In fact, it sounds like Kelly is auditioning for a gig as an oil industry lobbyist. I suspect we might see this clip in a future ad:
This led to a substantive exchange highlighting the contrast between Barber and Kelly on energy industry tax subsidies and, more generally, the role of the government in fostering innovation and setting industrial policy to create and preserve jobs.
While Kelly claimed to support eliminating all energy industry tax subsidies, I suspect a direct question as to ending specific favorable oil exploration and extraction tax treatment would produce a much different response from Mr. Kelly. This could be a very profitable line of attack for Barber:
Note carefully that Kelly also goes on record here as having opposed the bailout of Wall Street (I'm sure his donors won't like that...) and the auto industry - which saved, conservatively, one million American jobs at little cost to taxpayers. I'm looking forward to Mr. Kelly defending that position on the stump.
Barber's campaign now has new rich vein of from-the-hip stupidity from Mr. Kelly. It will be interesting to see what they are able to make out of these exchanges.
The Barber campaign has focused, rightly, on the lack of integrity and consistency from Kelly. Barber did some good work in calling out Kelly on his inconsistency and radical positions. He framed it as a matter of honesty with the voters very effectively:
Barber did a great job of directly calling out Kelly on his inconsistency. But he did make a significant fumble in his choice which nonsense to highlight. Barber rounded on Kelly about his (likely) lame attempt at humor by exclaiming that oil is a renewable resource. It was an unfortunate choice, because so easily dismissed. Barber should have instead led with his follow-up of eliminating the minimum wage, a much more serious issue and a more troubling (and deeply unpopular) policy position by Kelly. Here's the confrontation, which Barber definitely got the better of:
Barber demonstrated a good deal of moxie, and a willingness to call out Kelly on his bullshit, that bodes well for his future in the political scrimage. Many felt that Barber would have a problem with being too civil and too wonkish, unwilling to roll back his sleeves and take the fight to his opponent. This exchange should put that concern to rest.
Don't fuck with Mr. Barber; he knows how to throw an effective punch and won't back down if the gauntlet is thrown. That's perhaps the most important lesson of this debate.