To put it briefly: no one particularly stood out to me as a debater. I felt that none of the candidates presented the charisma or political chops to really impress voters. But if I had to choose who “won” the debate, I would probably say that by a slim margin, Governor Gina Raimondo won.
I applaud Raimondo for her handling of education policy during the debate. This is clearly one of her strongest issues, and regardless of your feelings on the policy, you must admit that she is passionate about universal pre-K education and the RI Promise Scholarship. Raimondo also remained cool and collected whenever her opponents criticized her, which is more than I can say for many other debaters that I have witnessed.
However, Raimondo did seem almost too polished during the debate. I understand that candidates often have an idea of what kind of questions will be asked, and plan their responses beforehand accordingly, but Raimondo sounded almost robotic at times. She spent much of the debate touting Rhode Island’s dwindling unemployment rate to cover for some of the issues she faced as governor, such as the state’s controversial pension reform and the ill-fated United Health Insurance Project computer system that cost the state millions of dollars. Whenever another candidate called her out for these issues, she conveniently ignored them.
Cranston Mayor and Republican nominee Allan Fung failed to stand out among the rest. Fung spent most of his time parroting statements from his campaign website about Raimondo and suggesting that questions aimed at him should be asked to other candidates instead of him without offering much of an explanation.
However, I’d argue that Fung enunciates his points quite well. The man’s voice is smooth and concise, and he did explain his thoughts on tax policy and immigration well. I’m surprised that none of the candidates nor anyone on the panel mentioned the controversy that has harmed the Cranston Police Department in recent years. I would be curious to hear how Fung would respond to those inquiries. Ultimately, nothing about Fung’s performance was particularly memorable.
In my personal opinion, independent candidate Joe Trillo left the most to be desired. Trillo’s rhetoric is a rip-off of President Trump’s, but Trillo just doesn’t pull it off. Trillo prided himself on being the straightforward candidate, the only one willing to tell it ‘as it is’. While I would usually see that as a positive, you can’t be so bull-headed that you offer little explanation for your opinions.
The Public’s Radio’s Ian Donnis questioned Trillo about his temperament early in the debate since reports recently came out saying that Trillo assaulted the then 12-year-old Nicholas Mattiello, the Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Trillo didn’t do much to defend himself and instead spoke about how his toughness would get things done. That, combined with vague policy left me unimpressed with his debate performance. I will admit, however, that at least Trillo was memorable. People who love Trillo tend to really love him, and those who dislike him tend to really dislike him.
Moderate candidate William Gilbert has the opposite of Trillo’s problem, in that he appeared too lukewarm to really appeal to anyone. The man seems well-intentioned and honest, but I can’t help but feel that his points were too wishy-washy. I understand the logic of wanting to focus on more on serious issues and less on, say, Fung wearing a MAGA hat. But to simply dismiss any sort of political conflict is naive.
I get that Gilbert’s a moderate, but responding to nearly every question asked with some variation of “let’s meet in the middle” appears more indecisive than moderate. I wish that Gilbert showed stronger positions on policy, regardless if I personally agreed with him or not. The only issue that Gilbert showed fire in was when discussing immigration. He still had a middle-of-the-road approach to the issue, but at least he had specific ideas on what to do about it.
I’m not at all surprised by anything that I mentioned above. Political debating is a game of dancing around the real issues. If I had to choose who presented the best at this debate, I would say that Raimondo showed the most in terms of substance and poise, but nothing particularly groundbreaking. However, don’t let this sway you. Just because someone performs well at the debate doesn’t mean they will win the election. Please go out and vote on Nov. 6!