Can you set aside the fact that one candidate is far, far ahead of the other in resources and popular support?
Can you pretend that you don’t know that one candidate is an extremely influential national political figure and the other is a complete unknown?
If you can do this, and you did it last night before you watched the Chuck Schumer-Jay Townsend debate, then you witnessed something extraordinary:
Townsend soundly defeated Schumer.
That’s right. Townsend put Schumer on the defensive in his opening statement and kept him there throughout the night. On taxes, spending, borrowing, job creation, health care and immigration, Townsend continually made Schumer explain and defend perceived Democratic failures.
At one point, Schumer was reflecting on his 12 years in the Senate. He said the first ten were just great, but the last two were difficult due to the recession.
Townsend pounced: “Senator, what rock have you been hiding under that you don’t know that 1.5 million people left New York over the last decade?”
At another point, Townsend said Schumer had been “bloviating” about Chinese trade policies for years without doing anything about it. In the give and take that followed, Schumer said several times that “China needs us more than we need them!”
While not an egregious gaffe, the notion that China, which holds billions of dollars worth of U.S. bonds, is not in “control” of the relationship seems to be an absurd position for Schumer to adopt. So did his insistence that a tariff war might be a good thing.
But Schumer was game. He never certainly broke. It’s just that he was bested again and again. He became aware of that as the debate progressed and grew increasingly animated bobbing his head and gesturing wildly with his hands to make points.
Clearly, Schumer didn’t expect Townsend’s performance. And neither did the reporters covering it. In fact, in much the same way that Schumer was in denial about what happened, so, too, were the reporters.
They kept defending Schumer, almost trying to convince themselves that he’d won. Joyce Purnick, formerly of the New York Times, said Townsend seemed angry and that she was sure it wasn’t going to play well. Greg Birnbaum, political editor of the Post, insisted that Townsend had been “outclassed” by Schumer’s substance. On the rare occasions when Schumer hadn’t offered a pointed reply, it was because Schumer wasn’t expressing what was in his “heart of hearts,” which Birnbaum professed to know. And the Albany Times Union’s Casey Seiler, who really wants to be an English Lit professor, took exceptional offense to the mixed metaphors in one of Townsend’s answers.
The only reporter who did seem to get what happened was NY1 political editor Bob Hardt, who praised Townsend’s performance and said that the debate was the best he’d seen in New York or elsewhere this year.
And Hardt was right.