Yellowhammer and the Baldwin County Young Republicans teamed up last night to host a forum for congressional candidates in Alabama’s First District. Seven candidates participated:
Bradley Byrne (R)
Daniel Dyas (R)
Chad Fincher (R)
James Hall (I)
Quin Hillyer (R)
Jessica James (R)
Dean Young (R)
Here are nine takeaways from last night’s event, broken up by a few tweets and pictures:
— George Talbot (@georgetalbot) August 5, 2013
1. Candidate experience and campaign team really matter
It’s easy to armchair quarterback presidential debates in the comfort of a recliner, but it’s another thing to get in front of a crowd of people and perfectly articulate the nuances of your policy positions in under 45 seconds.
Bradley Byrne’s poise and the ease with which he articulated his positions stood out during last night’s forum. I’m convinced it’s because he is far and away the most experienced campaigner in the race. He may not have won the gubernatorial race in 2010, but he’s reaping the benefits of that trial by fire as he communicates his message in the current race.
State Rep. Chad Fincher had a strong showing as well, drawing on his experience campaigning for the state house. I asked Fincher a tough question about whether or not his close relationship with ALFA would effect his decision making on coastal insurance reform and he answered the question easily without missing a beat.
Quin Hillyer was able to get down in the weeds on certain policy and process issues that other candidates glossed over because of his experience on the Hill as a senior level staffer and because he’s been writing about these issues for decades as a journalist.
In addition to their experience, all three of those candidates have a campaign infrastructure in place with staffers who are helping them formulate answers to tough questions. The campaigns with staffers were also the ones videoing the debate, preparing to capitalize on any golden moment in which they nail a one-liner or one of their opponents slips up and makes a mistake.
Other candidates had strong showings last night as well, but it was clear that the candidates who had past political experience (especially on the campaign trail) and strong campaign teams had a leg up on the competition.
2. Band of brothers is for real
When Independent candidate James Hall was asked by fellow candidate Jessica James to discuss his military service, he could barely get a sentence out before choking up. He said a few words about the men and women he served with and the camaraderie they shared, then cut his answer short before his emotions could get the best of him. It was a cool moment and a classy question from Ms. James.
3. Boehner isn’t getting much love on the campaign trail in south Alabama
In last night’s rapid fire round of questions, which required an answer in ten seconds or less, I asked the candidates if they would vote for John Boehner for Speaker. Dean Young started the round off with an emphatic “no,” and it didn’t get much better for Boehner from that point on. Several of the candidates said it would depend on who was challenging Boehner for the gavel. Hillyer said he’s a lot better than Nancy Pelosi (no argument there, folks). But none of the candidates were ready to cozy up to the current Speaker.
— Alex Schriver (@AlexSchriver) August 5, 2013
4. There’s a clear “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” in this race
“Repeal ObamaCare, lower taxes, repeal regulations!” Those are all talking points that conservatives can rally around. But when candidates are asked questions that get them to branch out and discuss issues that are a little more nuanced, the real contenders separate themselves from the pack.
Byrne, Fincher, Hillyer and Young were the top tier last night. Young doesn’t stray too far from his “limited government, constitutional conservative” talking points, but it really hits home with his base of supporters. See takeaway #1 above for my thoughts on Byrne, Fincher and Hillyer.
Other candidates had good moments, but weren’t able to put together a total performance.
Daniel Dyas quoted Ben Franklin when discussing his national security philosophy. “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both,” he said. Jessica James handled a tough question about her personal life with grace. And Hall gave some interesting responses as the only Independent in the forum.
However, all three of those candidates had hiccups in their presentation and gaps in their knowledge of the issues.
5. Hillyer and Byrne want each other’s supporters in a runoff
Byrne and Hillyer both went out of their way to compliment each other and discuss their friendship during the forum. If either one of them makes a runoff without the other, I’d guess they’ll be making a strong push to garner an endorsement and a wave of supporters that could put them over the top.
6. SHOCKER! The campaign isn’t going to remain all sunshine and roses
Hillyer announced today that he will not run a single “negative ad” throughout the entire campaign, and called on his fellow candidates to do the same. Hillyer asked Dean Young to make that pledge in front of the crowd during last night’s event. “I don’t know what qualifies as a negative ad,” Young replied, “but I plan on telling the truth. I’ll pledge to always tell the truth.”
7. Things are a lot more interesting when you’ve got candidates with a track record
During a round in which candidates were able to ask each other questions, Fincher asked Byrne about his support for Riley Amendment 1, which many say would have been the largest tax increase in Alabama history had it been approved by the voters.
Byrne responded to Fincher’s question by saying, “Let me first say thank you to you and your lovely wife for hosting a fundraiser for me and supporting me when I ran for governor,” which may have been the biggest laugh and applause line of the night. Byrne then turned the question around and referenced the Bentley Amendment 1 vote Fincher took in the House, which borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from the Alabama Trust Fund to patch a hole in the state’s budget.
Interactions like that only happen when you’ve got candidates who have a record to run on. Every legislator has made tough votes in the past that are hard to explain in a campaign.
Voters deserve an explanation, and should hold their elected officials accountable. But it’s a heckuva lot easier to run for office when you don’t have a voting record to reconcile with your rhetoric.
— MattSimpson (@MattSimpson) August 5, 2013
8. Everybody wants tax reform
Another question during the rapid fire round was whether or not the candidates would support the Fair Tax. Some candidates said “yes,” others said they needed to learn more about it, and others said no-go on the Fair Tax, but full-speed-ahead with a flat tax. Regardless of what reform measures they supported, every candidate agreed that the current system has got to go.
9. Conservatives still hate the Department of Education
Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 on a platform the included abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Last night, Jessica James made a quip in passing about abolishing the DOE and half the room almost came out of their skin jumping up to cheer. I honestly don’t even remember what brought it up, but all it took was one brief mention to get the GOP faithful riled up.