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Opinion: Walsh Wins Debate, But Who Was Watching?

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Opinion: Walsh Wins Debate, But Who Was Watching?

From the economy and taxes to Medicare and gay marriage, the pair clashed during the hour-long televised debate sponsored by WGN-TV.

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Rep. Joe Walsh (Tea Party-Ill.), is more cut out for talk radio than politics. But if he keeps talking as well as he did during his Friday night debate with Tammy Duckworth, he may keep his job in Congress. 

For Duckworth, the best thing about the debate was this: it took place at 6 p.m. Friday night. On cable TV. 

Walsh used his superior rhetorical and public speaking skills to portray himself as a reasonable, fiscally-responsible congressman, and Duckworth as a servant of the special interests. 

Right off the bat, the two candidates were asked about gay marriage, which President Obama endorsed last week. Walsh said he wasn’t in favor of it, but didn’t think it was a significant issue in the congressional race, either. Given the chance to look like a wingnut by ranting about “the gay agenda” and “traditional marriage,” Walsh decided to leave that to Rick Santorum. Duckworth seemed more committed to the issue, giving a speech about how gay couples deserve the same rights her husband had while she was recovering from wounds after he Blackhawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Walsh didn’t look like the candidate of the religious right, but Duckworth looked like the candidate of the gay community. 

Walsh also scored points by accusing President Obama of pandering to young voters -- an important Obama constituency -- by trying to keep student loan rates at 3.6 percent. Walsh voted against the bill because, he said, it would have increased the deficit by $6 billion. 

Duckworth accused Walsh of trying to end Medicare, suggesting he was “irresponsible and extremist” in voting for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal and calling the program a Ponzi scheme. Walsh turned that around by insisting that not trying to reform the health care program was irresponsible. 

“For anybody, Republican or Democrat, like you to say ‘don’t touch it,’ you’re ending Medicare as we know it,” Walsh said. 

Walsh is a conviction politician. Duckworth is a consensus politician. In a debate, her nuance is not as engaging as his belief. 

Walsh also avoided any of the outbursts that have made his town hall meetings Internet hits. Duckworth said he went to Washington to “scream from the mountaintops…crackpot Tea Party ideas,” but that’s not how he came off Friday night. However, you can be sure Duckworth will be airing clips of his most intemperate moments in her TV ads -- and those will be seen by a lot more people than a CLTV debate. 

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