Well, it wasn’t the dust-up some may have wanted – especially pro-Mike Kennedy supporters who wanted to see Mitt Romney bloodied a bit – but the TV/radio debate in the GOP U.S. Senate race Tuesday night did have some themes.
Kennedy, who is behind two-to-one in a new UtahPolicy.com poll, tried to paint Romney as anti-Trump, one who waffles on critical issues, and a Washington insider who will just be more of the same.
Romney didn’t go after Kennedy much, but he did react strongly (or as strongly as the impossibly coolheaded guy he portrays himself to be) when toward the end of the hour-long debate Kennedy defended his apologetic call to a Southern evangelical preacher.
Romney said Kennedy’s call was “inexplicable.”
Adding that he (Romney) was right to call the preacher a bigot when he insulted the people of Utah and members of “my faith” – Mormons.
Kennedy criticized Romney for his 2016 speech at the University of Utah where he lambasted President Donald Trump – where he called Trump a “fraud and phony.”
In fact, Kennedy attempted to tie himself strongly to Trump throughout the debate.
But Romney responded that Trump has endorsed his candidacy, not Kennedy’s.
Kennedy characterized Romney as a guy who waffles on important issues – like gun control, government health care and immigration, notably when he served one term as governor of Massachusetts.
Romney either sidestepped the criticism or took it head on, depending on the issue.
On gun control, Romney said both pro-gun hunting groups and anti-gun groups came together to propose legislation that banned semi-automatic rifles but allowed more open carrying of hunting guns – and he was proud to sign that law.
But on health care, Romney said he worked with the Democratic Legislature to come up with a market-based insurance plan that covered more people – and that was right for Massachusetts at that time.
Other states should solve their own health care issues, said Romney, who, like Kennedy, called for the repeal of Obamacare.
Kennedy said he gets along with people, taking all patients who come to him (he’s a doctor) without trying to change who they are.
He said “on occasion” Romney attacks people – like he did Trump.
Said Kennedy, “there is a fundamental difference” with Romney and himself there.
Kennedy didn’t call Romney a carpetbagger – although he did congratulate “the Massachusetts businessman” for relocating to Utah.
Both men said they want to build Trump’s wall along the Mexican border.
Kennedy said when Romney was the GOP presidential nominee he advocated illegals take themselves out of the United States on their own – “self-deportation” -- hinting it was a silly idea.
Romney said if there was a robust e-verify system for all immigrants/workers, then illegals couldn’t get work, and they would leave the U.S. on their own to support themselves and their families.
Both men said they have sympathy for the Dreamers – children of illegals brought here by their parents. But neither had a clear solution for that problem – only promising to work hard with others in Congress to find a solution.
The federal budget deficit?
A disgrace, both men said. Romney said when he ran for president he had a specific plan to get entitlement spending under control.
Both men said they would vote against any continuing resolution that wasn’t aimed at a responsible, balanced budget.
Several times Romney hinted that he will do this or that when he gets to the U.S. Senate – clearly indicating he expects to beat Kennedy in the June 26 GOP primary and defeat Democrat Jenney Wilson in November.
And, certainly, UtahPolicy.com polls by Dan Jones & Associates show Romney leading both challengers by large margins at this date.
To some extent, one could say Kennedy’s performance – while showing off his clear intellect and conservative creds (he said he wouldn’t even vote to ban “bump stocks” on semi-automatic weapons) – it wasn’t enough to eat much into Romney’s huge lead in the polls.
And Utahns know Mitt Romney much more than they know five-year state legislator Mike Kennedy from Alpine.
This may be a good chance for Kennedy to get his name out there, to make some waves in a high-profile race, impress a few voters.
But Romney had no gaffs in the debate, nothing much for social media to explode over in the few weeks remaining in the primary race.
The debate was sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission, hosted in the studies of KBYU.
You can see the debate on the commission’s website.