Tonight's debate at Flowing Wells was the last public appearance Gabby will be making to debate the issues (not including the KUAT in-studio debate Friday). Jay Quick, who is now eschewing debates, was expectedly absent while David Nolan showed up to crash the party as the uninvited guest.
While the audience waited well past the starting time for the event to begin, officials were backstage arguing why David Nolan should not be allowed to participate. Sources say the Graf campaign graciously supported Nolan participating, but not without receiving some grief about the contract they signed for the event.
Ultimately, the event began with David Nolan on stage.
Gabby entered the debate tonight with a much softer manner than in previous debates. With the entire debate focused on education, she was expected to assume a commanding role. Instead, she peppered the audience with human interest stories to the extent that she finished several of her responses with no clear answer. Unlike her first appearance, however, she responded more naturally giving less of a sense she was using rehearsed lines.
Graf appeared confident and articulate, much more so than in the first debate. Instead of taking punch after punch from Giffords, Randy responded with a few zingers of his own and seemed to steal the debate from Gabby as the evening wore on.
A few of the highlights inlcuded a question as to whether candidates would support extending the "No Child Left Behind" act. Randy said "no". Gabby offered a number of criticisms but suggested she would modify the existing bill.
When responding to questions about education funding and the Fed's role in education, Gabby spent her time discussing "excessive" Exxon profits and her 100% rating prompting Randy to comment "I don't know if there was an answer in that."
The greatest audience reactions came from the TUSD teachers union which let out cheers when Gabby said the government needs to raise teacher salaries and when she stated that as children our mom's used to say "Eat your veggies because there's a kid starving in China" and now we should say "study hard because a kid in China wants your job," a catchphrase she used in previous debates.
The most interesting volley was when Randy commented on the money being spent on U.S. Department of Education bureaucrats who do not teach. Gabby responded with information on several department officials with classroom teaching experience stating that there are 4500 experienced professionals in the department. Randy clarified that he was talking about the amount of money and number of teachers that could be in the classroom instead of going to people to tell teachers how to teach. Interestingly, spectators appeared more impressed with the number of bureaucrats being 4500 than the points made by either candidate.
Both candidates were articulate and smooth in their delivery, but Gabby seemed to have the most difficult time getting to her answers in the time alloted instead using it up with lengthy stories or less relevant information. In a debate that should have been owned by Gabby, Randy's decisive responses gave him the upper hand.
As is usually the case, the room was filled with decided voters. Tomorrow's KUAT televised debate will have considerably more impact with viewers at all stages of deciding available to participate.