It is interesting to watch the dynamics of the debates change when Gabby shows up. Last night, she may have even overshadowed David Nolan's usual commanding presence.
Here's my take on her first appearance:
Out of the chute, Gabby was prepared and aggressive. After the other candidates offered soft openings filled with statements of appreciation to those who hosted the event and descriptions of their qualifications, Gabby unleashed a barrage of rhetoric against Republicans asserting her commitment to a variety of social outcomes. Complaining about negative attacks on herself, she stated emphatically that she would "set the record straight." Within a couple of breaths, however, she unloaded an extreme DCCC-like attack on Graf claiming, among other things, that he wanted to eliminate Medicare.
Leaning forward and speaking rapidly, Gabby appeared nervous but consistently smooth in her delivery albeit somewhat "pre-recorded." Her preparation was evident as she frequently flipped the colored tabs on her impressive stack of yellow paper where every imaginable question was matched with a well-rehearsed response.
Gabby's coaching came from the Clinton playbook making considerable use of human-interest stories citing so-and-so who she spoke to about this or that problem. She also played to liberal Republicans by citing on several occasions lists of Republicans that she agreed with on an issue.
Keeping Randy at bay, she even pulled out a bit of Geraldine Farraro offering a little "poor me" victim jab in one of her responses. Now that was nostalgia!
Although she was challenged a few times by Randy and David, for the most part, she was provided little resistance throughout the debate. David Nolan's question was probably the biggest challenge of the evening when he asked Gabby to name one group that supports her contention that she is not a tax and spend liberal. Unable to answer the question, Gabby simply mentioned something about being voted Technology Legislator three years in a row.
Gabby was strong and clear on her positions about her opposition to the war in Iraq, support for federally funding embyonic stem cell research, desire to overhaul the senior's prescription drug plan, funding for No Child Left Behind, and allowing illegal aliens to continue working in the U.S. as guest workers.
Less clear were her positions on when to pull troops out of Iraq and whether she supports mining in the Santa Rita mountains.
Gabby danced around the issue of making English the official language suggesting she does not support it. She also made a confusing statement about opposing amnesty and not giving Medicare benefits to illegal alien guest workers until after they are granted citizenship.
Not that this debate will sway anybody considering that nearly all attendees wore one campaign button or another and few will bother to watch the broadcast later in the week, but overall, Giffords first appearance was polished, somewhat commanding and generally impressive. One thing is for sure, Graf knows that in the debates where Gabby shows up, he won't be given the free pass he has been getting so far.