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October 25, 2010

Uneventful Mikulski, Wargotz debate strikes few sparks

The first and presumably final debate between Sen. Barbara Mikulski and her Republican challenger, Eric Wargotz, is unlikely to alter the dynamics of a Maryland Senate contest that seems all but decided.

Airing tonight on Maryland Public Television, the 24-minute joint appearance is probably the only opportunity for voters to see the candidates side-by-side. They answered questions from moderator Jeff Salkin and, occasionally, responded to one another, though the discussion never grew heated.

The Wargotz team has tried to accuse Mikulski of refusing to debate, but, in reality, the front-running senator could have easily ducked this encounter without suffering serious damage.

As it was, she took a risk--admittedly a small one--by agreeing to sit across a table from her opponent in the Owings Mills studio. The danger: that a Mikulski gaffe or other unexpected development, caught on camera, might alter the outcome of the Nov. 2 vote.

That did not happen. Instead, their encounter turned out to be uneventful and almost sedate.

Wargotz, a Queen Anne's county commissioner, did his best to play on anti-establishment and anti-incumbent sentiment, promising that he would not be part of the "same old, same old" in Washington. In fact, the word "old" popped out of his mouth several times.

When Mikulski broke into a longwinded Wargotz answer at one point ("I thought we weren't going to filibuster, Jeff," she complained), the challenger said he'd try to wrap up quickly, then added, "I'm new at this. You're an old pro."

Mikulski, 74, may have lost a few steps in recent years, but her 53-year-old opponent isn't expected to knock her off. A new Baltimore Sun poll shows her with almost a two-to-one lead, in line with other statewide surveys.

Mikulski stuck to the formula that has worked extremely well for her over the years, softening her image by referring to herself as "Senator Barb," repeatedly drawing on her record of delivering federal money for the state and throwing off the corny one-liners that are her stock-in- trade.

"I‘m not a slogan senator, I’m a solution senator," she said in her closing comments, neatly coining another slogan.

She defended the Democratic stimulus package as a plus for the economy, talked about the need to do more to help small businesses create jobs, touted her work on health care legislation that will benefit women and said she favors a moratorium on new home foreclosures.

Mikulski also called for carbon pricing as part of new energy legislation and said it is both an environmental and a national security imperative. Reducing American reliance on imported oil will "keep us from funding these petro-jihadists that want to kill us," she said. "Every time we fill up a tank, we’re filling up a terrorist's gun."

Wargotz, a physician, tried to work his campaign message into every answer: Mikulski has been on Capitol HIll for too long (34 years, he noted) and is responsible for many of the state's problems. He said he has the new ideas that Maryland and the country need, though perhaps he didn't have enough time to outline them.

Most of those he mentioned--extending the Bush tax cuts, repealing the just passed health care law and reducing large jury awards in medical malpractice cases--didn't sound terribly new. Then again, there was nothing particularly novel about Mikulski's proposals, including public-private partnerships to create new jobs statewide, from the docks of Baltimore to the high-tech labs of the I-270 corridor.

"We’ve heard this same old rhetoric," Wargotz said, getting another chance to use the O-word, "yet we don’t create jobs. In Maryland, our unemployment rate went up again last month. What we need are fresh ideas."

Both candidates said afterward that they were satisfied with their performance. Wargotz used a chance hallway encounter to introduce his wife and three children to Mikulski, who was gracious and told them she was sure she'd be seeing them around.

If they do meet again, though, it won't be at a debate.

Posted by Paul West at 6:40 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Comments

I'm voting for Wargotz solely as a protest for the Mikulski signs her supporters put up every two feet for three miles along Owings Mills Blvd. That was necessary.

Mikulski may have been on the Hill for 34 years, but the reason for that is because she's loved by the people of Maryland and has done an absolutely outstanding job for her constituency.

For all the new ideas Wargotz claims to bring to the table, they all sound an awful lot like Tea Party talking points and echoes of TV politics, a la Glenn Beck.

Mikulski's been serving the people of Maryland before any of this, during good times and bad times, taking responsibility for our troubles and our successes. She's a politician that you can actually trust, and perhaps one of the most upstanding, free-thinking, and fiery spirited people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Even when I disagree with her I respect her, and the people of Maryland do too.

When her time is up, I'll be happy to hear who she would rather have in her stead and consider them, but until then, I'll cast my ballot for Mikulski.

Just watched the MPT for the second time after recording it. Too bad, Mikulski was to insecure to agree to a formal debate with Dr. Wargotz. She sputtered nonsense - typical politician talk. Wargotz was passionate and on point. I now know who I'm voting for. Thank you MPT!

I just finished watching the MPT program for the second time after recording it. Sen. Mikukski was tyoical politician response while Dr. argotz was passionate, on target and made me think. Ashame Sen. Mikulski is too insecure to agree to an hour long formal debate with Dr. Wargotz.
At least now I know who to vote for. Thank you MPT!

Thanks for the opportunity for another comparison...
Senator Mikulski = continued gov't growth, more debt, more taxes, more unemployment...
Dr. Wargotz = constitutionally small gov't, less debt, less taxing, more private business growth and jobs for Maryland...
Choice for Dr. Wargotz seems clear!

Senator Mikulski will continue to do the great job she has always been doing for Maryland. She fights for the interests of families and women and against big business and government.

Mikulski has been in office too long. She is a dinasour and has to go. Her voting for the stimulis just swayed my vote. She is more liberal than ever. She HAS TO GO!! Is it more a job for her as US Senator or a real chance at making a change? C'mon Maryland. 34 years of Mikulski.Don't be fooled by her playing the feminine Bambi card," I am a woman and we need equality". Thats her way of saying women are stupid and weak and cannot make decisions for themselves.

Senator Mikulski has always stood up for the environment. She acknowledges the correction of environmental mistakes is necessary for future generations. Senator Mikulski is aware of many jobs that can come from progressive energy action.

Every time we fill up a tank, we’re filling up a terrorist's gun.

I don't care if it is corny. Senator Barb's got it right on energy waste. She'd also say, "every time we fill up a tank, we're filling our air with planet-smothering CO2 and our children's lungs with pollutants.

But what I like best about Senator Barb is that she is careful with our money. She's investing in short-term gains like jobs for teachers, police and fire personnel, and road crews, but she's also looking long-term. That's why she's putting money into education and health care, especially prevention, to bring down our costs over time.

We have become a very impatient people. We want everything we see, and we want it yesterday. That's not the way to rebuild our state and nation.

Thank you, Senator Barb, for your hard work, level-headedness and experience. And... yeah... your "corny" slogans.

WOW! I'm always amazed when people say Mikulski fights for Marylanders in the Senate. What she does is shill for her leadership who know she can do anything they ask and Marylanders will still vote for her, regardless of how bad she is hurting the country and Maryland. I wonder who will get blamed when taxes go up and the inevitable inflation comes. Thanks Barb! Vote Wargotz before it is too late

We who support Barbara Mikulski know that she is always fighting for the people of Maryland that's why we have always voted for her.
She is one tough cookie that just won't crumble.
Thanks for staying solid Barbara Mikukski

Jeff, and eba I highly agree with you.
Yes Senator Barb has been in office for far, I mean far too long, she has done great with environmental issues, but there is a need for, I guess it would be called, a fresh face for Maryland in Washington DC. That's why I voted for Wargotz.
I am just glad so many people are voting in this election thank you to the people who are voting :)

Sen. Mikulski has been here 34 years. During that time the Chesapeake Bay has deteriorated more every one of those 34 years, so where has Sen. Barb been when she was supposed to be keeping watch? Our seafood industry is on the brink of disaster and with it all the many jobs that revolve around it. She has had ample time to get this problem solved, but instead has done nothing.

I do not know why anyone would vote against Mikulski. She is a warrior that has fought for Maryland's interests. It would have been very easy for us to lose jobs from BRAC instead we are gaining a ton. When ever I talk to my politically aware friends not from Maryland they are always in awe of everything "Senator Barb" does for us. Every year Mikulski fights for every Marylander and every American and I am proud to call her my senator.

So, Betsy, you vote according to directions from your politically aware friends outside of the state who tell you they are in awe of Mikulski. Do they also offer to sell you a bridge? Sorry. I don't want to be personal but you are voting my children's future right down the sewer into the Chesapeake Bay we all love.

Rich, sorry Mikulski is not looking out for our families. We have asked her to take care of issues concerning patients that need operations in order to feel better and be able to work and take care of their families...Mikulski's response was let me know whatelse I can do when she didn't do anything about the problem and that is still going on. The dept. of labor lets patients suffer and Mikulski does nothing about it!!

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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