Random observations on each candidate's performance:
No surprises on the Bobby Jindal front. He never strayed far from his central platform plank of ethics reform and talking point of directing voters to his Web site to see his policy plans. Still, after watching his performance, it hammered home why his campaign has avoided televised debates. Jindal cannot shed his overcaffeinated policy wonk speaking style, cramming a gazillion statistics, studies and anecdotes into every breathless one-minute answer. That was never more apparent than in the lightning round of questioning, as Jindal was incapable of providing simple yes or no answers. He also might have created an opening for opponents with his qualified endorsement of teaching intelligent design in Louisiana classrooms.
Foster Campbell repeatedly talked up his oil and gas processing tax, inevitably circling back to its promised revenue as the baseline solution for coastal reform, education reform, etc. So there's no question where he stands, but that's a double-edged sword that also portrays him as a one-trick pony. Comedy is not his forte; his multiple attempts at humor fell flat.
Walter Boasso gave the night's most puzzling performance. With all his big-guy swagger and latest round of hard-hitting ads against Jindal, he was so subdued you wonder if he took a sedative prior to the debate. That effect was compounded by too many answers short on specifics. He uttered what should have been the strongest answer of the night when asked why he switched parties. "My party left me in the water for eight days after Hurricane Katrina. My party lied to me. President Bush stood in Jackson Square and promised to rebuild. I have 120,000 reasons to be a Democrat today," he said, referring to the residents of his hard-hit Senate district. But he said it somewhat flatly; where's the fire in his belly?
If forced to pick a winner for the debate, I'd give John Georges the nod. (This week's cover profile of Georges is the final installment of The Independent Weekly's four-part series on the major gubernatorial candidates.) He was hoarse and looked a bit over-rehearsed at times, but he gave the most specific answers; drew a sharp contrast between himself and the other candidates on race relations by repeatedly pointing out that he was the only candidate to go to Jena; and took a jab at Jindal when he used his business experience to note that he's traveled to every parish in the state: "Unlike the congressman who hasn't created one job his entire life, I have created many jobs," Georges said.
That statement appeared to rattle the normally unflappable Jindal campaign; in a post-debate "Setting the Record Straight" press release, the campaign referred to Georges' assertion as myth and countered it with this fact: "Bobby Jindal has a detailed 21-point plan to grow jobs in Louisiana."
Pundits across the state agree on one point: Jindal's opponents were unexpectedly timid and blew their first opportunity to test him. Their tiptoeing around the frontrunner was so cautious that Boasso, Campbell and Georges inexplicably never referred to Jindal by name, only calling him "the congressman."
Two more debates between the four candidates are scheduled ' 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at LSU-Shreveport and a WAFB/WWL televised debate at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 in New Orleans ' but those debates won't be televised statewide.
Boasso, Campbell and Georges are all hoping for a runoff, but with less than three weeks until the election, Jindal remains in the catbird's seat. And unless his challengers start making more passionate, forceful distinctions between their platforms and Jindal's, we'll know who Louisiana's next governor will be on Oct. 20.