The winners and losers from the second Puerto Rico gubernatorial debate
As the 2016 campaign enters the home stretch, Puerto Rico has now had two gubernatorial debates, first on Wapa, and last night on Telemundo. These events, as with national ones, are highly scrutinized, but also subjectively characterized by the different political factions. For this reason, here at Pasquines we have stayed away from the “who won the debate” narrative, believing it to be a fallacy of no consequence.
That said, and inspired by The Washington Post’s The Fix blog, we have come to believe there is some merit to evaluating the performance of the candidates, so here are this writer’s impressions of the candidates.
(in no particular order)
In the first debate, independent candidate Alexandra Lúgaro’s performance ended up being underwhelming, outshined by Manuel Cidre’s sheer pragmatism and Maria de Lourdes Santiago’s flawless delivery. She learned from that first performance, and tonight delivered a particularly good execution, both in terms of substance and style.
The New Progressive Party candidate struggled in his first general election debate, with what could be seen as an overly rehearsed and unnatural delivery of his points, perceived at times as robotic. Like Lúgaro, Rosselló learned and improved on his execution, delivering a much more natural and confident performance, accentuated by his proposals. While it wasn’t a dazzling, game-changing display of debating skills, truth is, Rosselló doesn’t need it. The status quo in the race favors him, after several polls place him at the top of the six way race. By merely having an ok debate, and with no one else outshining the others by a significant margin, Rosselló might be the candidate that has the best night.
The Popular Democratic Party’s candidate seemed to have a slight shift in tone, with less combative answers. Granted, the very structured and strict format allowed for even less confrontation between candidates than before, save for the one question Bernier asked Rosselló. It was in this question that Bernier had his biggest misstep of the night: a very predictable question based on the oft-repeated attack on Rosselló that he will fire public workers. Rosselló was evidently prepared for this question, and Bernier was not able to make him look bad. On that note, Bernier needs a home-run in these debates, if the momentum in the race is to shift at all, and last night, he fell short of that again.
Maria de Lourdes Santiago
As a senator and politician used to public life, the Puerto Rican Independence Party’s candidate usually delivers perfectly delivered statements that drive home her points. Last night however, there were instances where she stumbled and came off as off her game. Don’t expect any memes to come out from her performance last night. As a distant third place in the race, Santiago would need an unmistakably superior performance that distinguishes her, not only among the other five candidates, but among the usual PIP candidates. As of right now, it seems like it’s a race for third place between her and the other independent and minor party candidates, and she might lose.
Debates in Puerto Rico
If national presidential primary are too chaotic, Puerto Rican debates fail on the overly structured sense. While you can understand the attempt to have order when there are six candidates on stage, the very short turns, and inability for candidates to confront each other, and lack of moderators who follow up when questions are not answered is frustrating to say the least. The debate was overall, a snooze fest with no memorable moments, despite all the hype about it being a new format. The only chance for a real debate, came when candidates were, by random selection, asked to ask another a question. But the potential of the move was eliminated since the candidate asking the question had not chance to follow up. In short, once again, we have less debate, more of two hours of candidates repeating their stump speeches in 30 and 60 minute clips. We can do better. There was also criticism on social media because, on this debate, as on the last, there was no sign language interpreter on screen.
You’ll notice Manuel Cidre and Rafael Bernabé are not in this list. That’s because neither of their performances was good or bad enough to likely have any impact. As far as the race is concerned they remain stagnant, even in a race that is likely to be unaffected by this debate.
We will have a few more debates for the gubernatorial race, with one of them again on Telemundo in late October.