Is Beverly Perdue a bad debater?
Democratic consultant Gary Pearce said allowing her to debate five times was "political malfeasance." Charlotte Observer columnist Jack Betts said Republican Pat McCrory is "more polished." WUNC reporter Laura Leslie said debates "aren't Perdue's strongest suit."
Dome's take: The format makes the difference.
McCrory has clearly outshined Perdue in sit-down debates that allowed more back-and-forth between the candidates, such as the recent debates on WRAL and WTVD.
But the two are more evenly matched in formal settings with podiums and timers, such as the recent debate at the SAS Institute. Perdue excelled in that type of setting during her primary debates against Richard Moore.
Their backgrounds may help explain that. As Betts noted, Perdue has presided over the Senate for eight years. It's a place where formality reigns. Parliamentary rules determine the course of the debate and legislators take turns giving short speeches.
City council meetings are much more informal. Mayors and council members typically sit, discussion is more freewheeling and thinking on your feet is a virtue. Typically, only the city attorney keeps careful track of Robert's Rules of Orders.
In addition, state legislators rarely debate during their campaigns, while McCrory has faced a number of televised debates in his biennial campaigns for mayor.
In short, the more the debate is like the Senate, the better Perdue does. But when it's more like a City Council meeting, McCrory tends to win the day.
If we're right, then Perdue's decision to skip the UNC-TV debate tonight — a formal debate that will be aired statewide — was a strategic mistake.