Last month, State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the Democratic candidate for governor, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent, squared off in the first of two debates for the general election. Barely 10 days later, Tuesday night, Abbott and Davis faced one another in the second debate. There was a world of difference.
In the first debate, held in McAllen, Davis sounded painfully scripted and non-relaxed. "Robotic" is the word that the pundits kept circling around toward. Erica Grieder, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, tweeted that Davis "sounds like she's running for student council." Abbott, for his part, appeared cool and at ease throughout the debate. Policy issues aside, Abbott figuratively wiped the floor with Davis the first time that the two butted heads on television. All of that changed in Dallas Tuesday night.
While Davis did not score the decisive victory needed to bolster her long-shot campaign, she did regain her footing and fought back hard against Abbott. While Davis still sounded scripted, her words appeared somewhat more sincere and effective this time around. On points such as Abbott's alleged involvement in the mismanagement of money with the Texas Enterprise Fund, Davis repeatedly put her opponent on the defensive.
In the second debate, Abbott was still a formidable foe. He never slipped up in a way that the Democrats had been waiting for him to. And Davis did herself no favors by ignoring — not once, not twice, but three times — moderators’ repeated queries as to the price tag of her education plans. But she still exceeded expectations, and then some.
Still, the debate format lacked real chutzpah. While the unbearable arrangement of the first debate was merely two concurrent press conferences, this debate had the feel of two concurrent tough interviews. A panel of skilled and respectable journalists asked good follow-up questions, and wouldn’t let either candidate get away with pivots. But I suppose actual argument between the candidates is still a quixotic dream. After all, that would make it…a debate?