Zingler on 5th District debate

David Zingler, who does not work for MPR, has sent along his thoughts on last night’s 5th District debate. Dislcaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer: You know how blogs post excerpts from stuff other people write. Same thing.

If you have a similar “review” you’d like to write, just paste it in the comments and have at it.

BTW, there’s a screw-up somewhere between here and Mpls that has prevented the full audio from begin fed and encoded. I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.

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Tension, Excitement Highlight CD 5 Forum

After having been to a couple of relatively tame CD 5 Candidate Forums in the last month, I am surprised to see the parking lot of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park fill up in relatively fast fashion. As Kyla and I near the entrance of the synagogue, we encounter Stan, a friend and co-worker of mine. We exchange pleasantries and enter. Once in the lobby, we notice a man that bears an uncanny resemblance to Alan Fine. An unconfirmed source tells us he is the Republican nominee’s brother.

There is definitely a “buzz” surrounding the event. The padded, theater style flip down seats are filling up. Unlike past forums, we are fortunate to find good seats. I soon notice that Eric Eskola, of TPT’s Almanac, is in attendance, which only adds to the “political geek cred” of the festivities.

As for the candidates, Independence Party nominee Tammy Lee is the first to enter. A few minutes later she is followed by Democrat Keith Ellison, who is sporting a kippah skull cap in respect to Jewish tradition. Shortly after, Fine arrives, also donning a kippah.

As we wait for the forum to begin, I overhear a group of four women, seated directly behind us, discuss the candidates. One, clearly not an Ellison supporter, cites his personal problems as the reason for her disgust of the Democrat. When pressed for proof by a pro-Ellison friend, she cites Power Line and labels the blog “progressive”.

Despite not being invited to participate, Jay Pond of the Green Party is in attendance. When Ellison and Lee notice their fellow candidate, they walk into the crowd and escort him to the stage. The forum’s organizers however, quickly intervene and Pond returns to his 4th row seat.

With flash bulbs popping throughout the audience, the debate begins. WCCO’s Esme Murphy acts as the moderator. Ellison goes first and greets the audience with a “Shalom” before explaining he is for “peace with security for Israel”.

Fine, seated in the middle, follows by explaining how his grandfather was one of the founders of the synagogue before launching into a tirade about how the Star Tribune attempted to “fix the election” by printing a story about his 1995 spousal abuse accusations. The Repubican called the story “not kosher” before attacking Ellison’s relationship with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and stating that he is “not a member of the Nation of Islam.” During his rant, Fine’s kippah falls off and he runs over his allotted time and is cut off by the moderator.

Next, Lee encounters microphone problems which cause her to share the audio equipment with Fine. Always upbeat, Lee tells the audience that, instead of focusing on her opponents, she would show why she is the “best candidate”. During this time, Fine reapplies his headwear.

The first question of the night involves the separation of church and state. Before beginning his answer, Ellison tells the audience that, like Fine, he is not a member of the Nation of Islam and is also not endorsed by CAIR. Fine follows by calling Ellison’s statements “not true” and, again, personally attacks his Democratic opponent. The crowd boos. Sensing the event is getting out of control, Murphy interrupts Fine and directs him to answer the church and state question.

Soon after the candidates are asked the usual laundry list of issue-orientated questions – Iraq, immigration, health care, Darfur, etc – the responses to which are fairly predictable. The highlights of this period include Fine agreeing with Ellison “that immigration is important” and calling the environment his “top priority.” Lee brings the healthcare issue home by explaining that she is paying $1400 monthly for insurance for herself and her young daughter. Ellison gives a very politically correct response when asked about Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah.

As the debate rolls along, Lee reveals that she is “committed to caucus with the Democrats” if she is elected to congress. Ellison seems bent on touting his mainstream credentials by listing the various labor unions and organizations that have endorsed him. The controversial Democrat also positions himself as a “uniter”. He discusses his primary night victory party, “I wish you all could have been there. There were all faiths, all colors, it was a beautiful thing. I am going to do that in congress.”

Fine is the least impressive on this night. He answers many questions with rambling dissertations that border on incoherent. The moderator frequently has to cut him off as he fails to stay within the allotted time frame. About an hour into the event the Republican describes himself as a unifier and implores voters to “not look at the ‘R’ or ‘D’, but at the person, especially in this election.” During this time, his kippah falls off again.

With the festivities winding down, the candidates are asked about their stands on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Fine supports it with the typical GOP talking points; Lee is against the measure as is Ellison who says “The biggest threat to heterosexual marriage is heterosexual divorce.”

In their closing statements, Ellison and Lee tout their usual middle class friendly themes while Fine launches into another of his patented tirades. He says “Keith Ellison sounds great” but urges voters to look at his “background.” He closes by scolding voters to “open up your eyes” and see that Ellison is “not fit to serve in Washington.” He is booed and hissed during this time.

The synagogue is again buzzing as we exit. Ellison darts off the stage as if to get away from Fine as quickly as possible. No matter what you may think about the Democratic nominee, you have to admire his restraint and composure. Fine’s goal on this night seemed to be to rattle his hated opponent in hopes he would crack on hostile turf. It didn’t work.