By Michael Bryan
I watched the whole damn thing. I did learn few things about the candidates. Certainly, there is nothing of substance one can learn about policy that might distinguish between the various GOP candidates and the various Dem candidates in such a forum. But one can get an idea of a candidate's style and presentation: how they express themselves, their values, the themes they will emphasize, their effectiveness as a communicator, their relevant experience. Here's the few crumbs I picked up amid the backwash of political soundbytes and trash-talk. Keep in mind this is just a gut-check response, not a policy review.
Scottsdale City Councilor Lisa Borowsky (R) and ex-CIA Officer Leah Campos Schandlbauer (R) couldn't be arsed to show up, apparently. Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing how Campos Shandlebauer handled herself. She's the most interesting entrant of the Republican field, in my opinion.
Paradise Valley Town Councilor/Mayor Vernon Parker (R): No wonder this guy keeps losing every nomination to higher office he tries for. He hasn't learned the most important lesson of contemporary GOP politics: you can only be a black Republican candidate if you are a racial stereotype with a catchy one-liner, or keep your mouth shut and toe the party line. Nothing puts off GOP primary voters like a thoughtful, well-spoken, accomplished, and charming black man: you are exactly what they are terrified of having in office, and are turning themselves inside out and having kittens trying to bum rush out the door. The right does not want an Obama, Vernon - they will only accept a buffoonish character like Cain, or a silent and correctingly voting crony like Thomas. Change your talking points slightly and become a Blue Dog Democrat, or resign yourself to being a big fish in a small pond for the rest of your political career.
Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers (R): Wow. She's really obnoxious and grating. Even Republicans are going to dislike her instinctually. I don't know why she thought that a political career was an option. Just watching her presentation makes your skin crawl. Her voice, her attitude, her phrasing, her bird-like head movements; a perfect package of ill-at-ease. It's nothing really to do with her worth as a person: I'm sure she's a very competent, and perfectly lovely person, she's just wildly off-putting in this context. I'm mean, really, the first thing out of her mouth is to claim to be one of the only people in the room to have started a business and created jobs in the district: she's addressing the fucking Chandler Chamber of Commerce! Foot tastes good to Wendy, apparently... Despite her military career and her business experience she will lose, because she has zero political potential. Give it up, Wendy, you are wasting your time, you just haven't got the right stuff.
Former Chandler City Councilor Martin Sepulveda (R): If the GOP were rational, this would be their guy. He's presents even wackadoodle ideas in a reasonable and approachable manner. He seems to have the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. He has a relevent set of experiences (military leadership, business owner, business development, city government), deep roots in the district, and has a reassuring and pleasant demeanor. He's not a ranter or a one-liner, he frequently even seems fairly pragmatic rather than ideological, and he just looks like a Congressman. He might have considerable cross-over appeal, and his last name can't hurt. Of course, all those reasons to nominate him practically ensure that the GOP won't do so.
State Senator David Shapira (D): David has the most natural presentation of the three Democratic candidates. He talks like a person more often than he talks like a poltician. He has a compelling personal story regarding his main themes of education and health care. David seems to have absorbed the lesson that to communicate politically you have to talk about personal experience, compelling stories, and hammering on a central premises and values. And he simply has the best political speaking voice of all the candidates, though Sepulveda and Parker sound pretty good.
State Legislator Kyrsten Sinema (D): Kyrsten sounds a little too over-rehearsed. She speaks with a polish and competency (and insidery buzz words) that is just a bit too perfectly posh. At the end of every perfectly framed paragraph that she rattles off from her prepared comments, she looks like she is waiting for applause, or a pat on the head. And she's madly triangulating the whole time. She invokes Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, and, yes, Mo Udall. She emphasizes her ability to work across the aisle every time she opens her mouth. She emphasizes balance and moderation, and makes sure to present a hard line (immigration, national security) to every soft one (tax relief for the middle class, more help for the unemployed). I suspect that Kyrsten is looking past the primary to the general election and carving out a moderate position to insulate herself against her more wild and wooly liberal and green past. Problem is, Kyrsten, it just doesn't seem genuine. Maybe you need to loosen up and tell people what your values are, rather than plot out some perfectly balanced set of policy positions.
Former AZDP Chairman Andrei Cherny (D): Cherny, as expected, came off as a hyper-competent, wunderkind, and policy wonk - which is what he is. I never got much of a glimpse any particular passion or personal feeling from Cherny, however. He's not very relatable. He returns a bit too often to his time in the Clinton Administration. He seems stuck in the same, "let's get back to the 90's" mindset that holds so many former Clinton staffer hostage to the past. He sounds like Clinton is running for Congress by proxy. Cherny needs to make the case why HE should go to Congress, not Clinton.
Travis Grantham (R): Who let Jesse Kelly in here? Seriously, this guy is Kelly with a slightly different hairline. He's a soundbyte spouting ignoramus with the same reality-challenged, know-nothing cant as Kelly. He has no relevant political experience, a sinecure job with daddy's business that he flacks as real business experience, a stint in the military (though not in dashing combat deployments like Kelly), and a somewhat MILFey wife with two kids (two photogenic girls, rather than Kelly's two photogenic boys); unlike Kelly, he at least bothered to finish college (though at ASU, so its value is debatable...). But he is every bit as empty of any real content as Kelly, and every bit as cocky, ignorant, and proud of it. Blah blah tax cut for the wealthy, blah blah job creators, blah blah cut regulations, blah blah cut the deficit, blah blah cut cap and balance, blah blah tax the poor, blah blah free market, blah blah tort reform! We have a winner folks! Seriously, I think the GOP will have to nominate this buffoon.
Jeff Thompson (R): Obligatory, condescending, hectoring, dyspeptic old guy who claims he's not a politician, but a businessman who will whip Washington into shape. Turned his debate performance into a hallelujah chorus for Grantham. Not an original idea in his head. The Donald Trump of the race, but without the 'classy'. Not a chance. He will, however, provide comedy relief in the race with his un-selfconciously dickish personality.
If you can take it, the whole two-hour snoozefest is after the click... (note the embedded video may not work with your browser, if so, use the link at the beginning of the post)