Rating the Debate: Berntsen v. Townsend

Debate Ahead

Last night I attended a YNN debate hosted by Union College in Schenectady.  The opponents in the debate, Gary Berntsen and Jay Townsend, are facing off in the September 14th primary for the opportunity to challenge Senator Chuck Schumer in November.  You can see the debate in its entirety on Capital Tonight’s website.

YNN hoped for fireworks.  (I suspect it makes for a more exciting show.)  The fireworks were there, but they were more of the backyard type.  A little more sporadic and less overwhelming than your typical 4th of July display.  Both candidates were very similar in their beliefs and answers.  Don’t get me wrong, though. The debate was still very important and might even be a cornerstone in building an informed electorate for the upcoming primary.

I’ll give YNN credit.  They ran a professional debate.  It was an hour-long mix of various formats.  The moderator, Roma Torre – NY1 anchor, asked a couple questions and even jumped in for clarification at times.  Three panelists, Liz Benjamin – host of Capital Tonight, Erin Billups – NY1 Albany reporter, and Kaitlyn Ross – YNN reporter, asked individual questions. Topics included: the World Trade Center Mosque, job creation, the Afghanistan war, healthcare, Supreme Court litmus tests, Wall St. vs. Main St., hydrofracking, immigration, global warming, offshore drilling, gay marriage, and the 2nd Amendment.  Each candidate also had the opportunity to ask a question of his opponent.

Smack in the middle of the debate was a “lightning round” with questions intended to elicit “yes” or “no” answers.  I am not convinced that it significantly increased the useful knowledge of the candidates.  But with questions like the following, it made for an entertaining break in the debate:

  • “Have you ever been arrested?”  (Townsend – Yes, Berntsen – No.)
  • “Have you ever tweeted?”  (Neither candidate has.)
  • “Have you ever spent more than $50 on a haircut?”  (Nope for both.)
  • “Would Sarah Palin make a good president?”  (Maybe… ummm yes… from both.)

While most questions in the lightning round weren’t terribly enlightening, there were points within the debate that caught my attention:

  • Neither candidate thought the government should stop the building of the WTC Mosque that’s in the news today.  However, they both felt strongly, (especially Berntsen), that the mosque should not be constructed near Ground Zero.  Both looked to public outrage as the vehicle to get the mosque contstruction site moved.
  • I was intrigued by Berntsen’s proposal to dramatically change the way the war in Afghanistan is being fought.  He proposed a “Freedom Corps” consisting of US, UK, Canadian, etc officers leading better paid Afghani troops.
  • Economically, Berntsen proposed using his contacts and tax incentives to create the opportunity for NY dairy farmers to export powdered milk to countries like Brazil, India and China.
  • When asked, neither candidate had anything positive to say about Schumer.  Not really a shocker, but it caught my attention.
  • Perhaps the biggest point of discussion revolved around each candidate’s support.  Berntsen has the Republican endorsement and is also running on the Taxpayer Party line.  Townsend has the Conservative Party endorsement.  Will the Taxpayer line trump the Conservative line?  That’s the million dollar question these days.
  • And the debate concluded with a topic that should be included in every debate, at least to lighten the mood… cows.  Townsend stated that he knew the difference between a Holstein and a Guernsey.  Berntsen, admitting that he is a city boy, didn’t.  Moo.

Enough about the details of the debate.  I’m sure that you’re looking for my take on the debate.  Who won, who lost, etc.

In my opinion, both candidates showed their strengths and weaknesses. Both looked uncomfortable at times.  Townsend’s smile was forced. Berntsen spent much of the time with a frown.  Townsend was more eloquent and polished.  He’s got a knack for a good metaphor.  Berntsen seemed more “real” to me.  Townsend was slightly stronger on domestic issues, especially the economy.  Berntsen was much stronger when it came to foreign policy.

I can’t say that there was a clear winner in the debate.  It was just too close.  But the debate did enable me to make a more informed decision for the upcoming primary.  Personally, I am leaning toward Berntsen based on my desire for a Senator with a foreign policy background and a desire for a strong national defense.

While I cannot declare a winner in the debate, I can declare a loser:  Sen. Schumer!  It’s no secret that I think Schumer is a terrible Senator for New York and the country.  Either Berntsen or Townsend would be an immense improvement!

Leave a comment


  1. Luke

     /  August 26, 2010

    Whichever one is going to go after Schumer and run a strong campaign is who I’ll support, which sounds like Berntsen. We definitely don’t need a ‘safe’ candidate who won’t say anything that might be construed as controversial and go on to lose by 30 points and be perfectly content with that.

    • Luke,

      I think I’d agree with you there. Whoever is going up against Schumer is gonna need a little controversy to stir the pot, get media attention, and get their message out.


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