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Shoot. I missed "Wheel of Fortune" for this?

Friday night's first gubernatorial debate offered little more than a compilation of excerpts from the nasty, insipid campaign ads that the two candidates have been airing non-stop for the past six weeks.

Viewers gained no new understanding of how Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Schuette would govern Michigan. Nor did they get details about the shockingly shallow proposals they've offered during this issue-less campaign.

And except for a sophomoric jab by Whitmer — "When Donald Trump says jump, Bill Schuette asks, 'How high?'" — the president who polls say is driving the decision of Michigan voters was barely mentioned.

Strip away the incessant insults, and the meat of the debate at the WOOD-TV studios in Grand Rapids revealed little separation between the candidates on the major questions, largely because they offered so few details on their plans.

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Democrat Gretchen Whitmer reacts to her first televised debate with Bill Schuette. Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

 

Both would stress literacy to improve education. Both would kill the pension tax, blowing a $300 million hole in the state budget that neither said how they'd fill.

Both would protect the Great Lakes. Both have flimsy, unfunded proposals for repairing the state's roads. 

Each took credit for defending the victims of MSU's predator doctor, Larry Nassar, and each pledged to somehow, some way, lower auto insurance costs. How? They didn't tell us.

It wasn't even a good fight. Their rehearsed one-liners lacked a flicker of cleverness. 

I felt Whitmer missed an opportunity to put this race away by rising above pettiness and presenting herself as if she already held the office. Owning a comfortable lead in the polls, Friday's stage was an opportunity to cement the confidence of voters in her ability to lead the state.

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Republican governor hopeful Bill Schuette addresses a 1989 video clip after a debate in Grand Rapids on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. Beth LeBlanc, Lansing State Journal

 

Instead, she fell back on the trite, spending way too much time belittling Schuette and cataloging his shortcomings. She should have talked more about herself, and less about him. When you're that far ahead, ignore your opponent, treat him as if he doesn't matter. But it became clear as the longest hour wore on that the former Senate minority leader didn't have that much material.

Schuette failed to play to his strength — his deep experience. Based on what voters are telling pollsters, his task in the debate was to improve his likability numbers. You don't do that by constantly repeating attack lines that haven't worked so far in the campaign, and didn't work again Friday night. 

I co-moderated the debates in 2010 and 2014 featuring Gov. Rick Snyder. Nerd that he is, Snyder came ready to talk to voters about his big ideas for turning Michigan around. He was specific. He was positive. 

There were no big ideas Friday. And nothing to inspire. 

I felt I made a poor choice. This debate was just the extended-play version of the Whitmer/Schuette campaign ads. 

And since those ads are saturating all my favorite TV shows, I could have watched Vanna and Pat and got the same information, while working in an episode of "Jeopardy" to boot. 

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.

 

 

  

 

 

 

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