Three political pundits came away from Wednesday evening's debate with different views. But two points of agreement: Democratic candidate Walter Dalton didn't do enough to alter the race, in which he is losing by double-digits. And Pat McCrory offered a surprising amount of detail on two hot-button issues.
Andy Taylor, political science professor at N.C. State University: “The debate was certainly not anything approaching the ‘game changer’ Dalton needed. People are already voting, and the lieutenant governor has very little money, so this debate was, in many ways, his last chance to alter the dynamic of the race. I found it interesting that he was not as pugnacious as he’d been in the two earlier debates. Some of that was because he didn’t get the opportunity, but even on the question David Crabtree asked of McCrory’s job and income Dalton wasn’t able to land punches and advance an argument that the mayor isn’t fully transparent and perhaps not completely trustworthy.
“Dalton has shown himself to have a tremendous command of details, but he has never made a concise, simple, and compelling case for why he should be elected governor. His last chance was tonight.
“As for McCrory, I thought he was more comfortable tonight than he had been in the previous debates. He really didn’t sit on the argument that he is a pragmatic can-do leader who can solve the state’s problems, but talked in more detail about policy and revealed conservative positions on many issues. I think this demonstrated a level of confidence in his victory and a transition from a defensive “wait-out-the-clock” campaign to thoughts of what he’s going to do starting in 2013.”
David B. McLennan, professor of political science and communications at William Peace University in Raleigh: “The final debate will have little impact on the outcome of the governor’s race. Walter Dalton turned in his best performance, while Pat McCrory’s strategy of attacking Dalton, Gov. Perdue, and South Carolina seemed unnecessary. The biggest surprise of the evening was McCrory’s definitive response about no further restrictions on abortions for women, a position that may put him at odds with some fellow Republicans in the General Assembly.”
Mike Munger, a Duke University political science professor and the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2008: “McCrory did what he needed to do. I’m not sure what Dalton could have done, but this debate was either a draw or McCrory may even have helped himself slightly.
“Having myself debated Pat McCrory four times, I can say that he is thoughtful, quick, and unflappable. He didn’t get flustered, and he ducked the questions he needed to duck.
“Still, there was more substance there than there might have been. And Pat did keep hammering away at what is clearly the central two-pronged strategy of the McCrory campaign: (1) The economy is bad, and the Democratic administration has failed the state, and (2) Dalton is actually part of that administration. So McCrory again and again tied Dalton to Perdue, to corruption, and the general embarrassing ickiness of Democratic executive brain trust.
“For Dalton: This was his best debate, of the three. But still seemed flustered, hurried, and awkward. His jabs at McCrory were fair enough, in substance, but they came across to me as petty and disconnected. Still, I think you could say that Dalton did well enough to have a claim on a draw. The problem is that Dalton needed a miracle. Can’t blame him for falling short, by that standard. McCrory would have had to beat himself, given how far Dalton is back in the polls.”