OR: the ed debate

Afew quick observations about the hour-long debate on children’s issues, most notably education, between the Oregon candidates for governor: No slam dunks, with two contenders gradually warming to the topic and running in a few good shots.

Ron SaxtonRepublican Ron Saxton was probably a little smoother; public education clearly is a topic he feels comfortable discussing. The subject matter was interesting; compare him to a typical Idaho Republican or even many Washington Republicans and he sounds off-the-charts moderate for his party; such subjects as charter schools and home schooling didn’t even come up.

He moved fluently through some of the specific organizational topics, including school spending procedures and foster child programs. His fluency had a slight cost, though; the smoothness gave him a bloodless, policy wonkish aspect, even on subjects where his words make clear that he feels very strongly.

Ted KulongoskiTed Kulongoski, the Democratic incumbent, was a little less smooth but conveyed a lot more passion. His answers on a range of policies were tethered a little took often to the idea that “the government has an obligation,” but his pitch about the needs at stake was involving.

In strategic messaging, Kulongoski had a somewhat more interesting debate. Saxton has been pushing the idea that Oregon can oeprate better with more efficiencies, and he pursued that idea solidly. But Kulongoski had the more pointed barbs. He hammered in the message – which he’s been using in TV ads – that “I’m on your side,” conveying the sense that Saxton is not. By itself, that’s a little vague. But elsewhere in the debate, he clarified what he means, and you have to wonder if this is what’s coming next in the next round of Kulongoski spots: Saxton, he charged, is interested in looking out for “the privileged few” and “the corporate elite.” (The recent story about Saxton’s school residency, not mentioned at all in the debate, would be a perfect tie-in to that.) There was no similar heads up – if that’s what it was – on the Saxton side about what new may be coming.

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