Governor Charlie Baker Stood Tall in Debate [OPINION]
Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Jay Gonzalez met for their first debate last night. Baker will be the governor again after the election.
Jon Keller, the veteran political reporter for WBZ TV in Boston, did a great job asking the questions and controlling the flow of the debate. Both of the candidates are serious about their public image and acted professionally on the stage. There were no cheap shots or out-of-bounds personal attacks.
The starkest contrast was in the height of the two candidates. Baker is tall and Gonzalez is small. There is at least a foot in the difference in height between the two candidates. The Democrat was given a box to stand on at the podium. Seriously, he was standing on a box. I fault his team for allowing the box to be seen on TV last night.
Back in 1994, Ted Kennedy was very overweight and he was running against a Ken Doll named Willard M. Romney. The Kennedy people outsmarted Romney's team when they got wide podiums for the debates. Senator Kennedy was able to conceal his body behind the podium, and it removed the stark visual contrast between him and the fit and trim Romney.
Do height and weight make a difference in how one governs a state or a nation? Probably not at all. But it does impact in the minds of voters, and that is what televised debates are for in elections. People who listened to the 1960 debate between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon gave the contest to Nixon. People who watched and listened to the debate on television thought Kennedy was better than Nixon. The visual matters in campaigns.
The other problem for Gonzalez is he worked for another Massachusetts governor and is saddled with those decisions. He was a cabinet secretary for Deval Patrick and implemented the policy goals of the governor. He was repeatedly hammered by Baker for cuts to local aid, child and family services, and education that he implemented at the behest of former Gov. Patrick. Baker contrasted his additional support for education, families, and local aid with the cuts Patrick made in a much tougher economy.
His only response was some version of calling the Baker attacks "fuzzy math," and that his administration would "aim high" for the state. His response came off rehearsed and robotic by the end of the contest.
A recent poll has 40 percent of Massachusetts Democrats supporting the Baker/Polito ticket for re-election. The Republican is flush with campaign cash. The Democrat is supported by taxpayer's voluntary funds.
Debates give campaigns the video footage they need for attack ads. Unfortunately for Jay, the Democrats have abandoned him and he has no money for television. Baker has lots of footage and even more money to spend on television and radio this year.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.