Sanders-Tarrant Debate

On Sunday Oct. 8 the theatre of Winooski High School was packed to capacity with people in either red or yellow shirts out to support their candidate for Vermont’s U.S. Senate seat. “I will be a voice of moderation to help bring Democrats and Republicans together as a team for the good of the country,” said Republican candidate Richard Tarrant in an opening statement at the WCAX-TV News debate with his opponent, Independent candidate Bernie Sanders. Marselis Parsons, news director of WCAX-TV and Channel 3 news anchorman, was the moderator of the debate. Tarrant won the coin toss and chose to open first and close last. “Mr. Sanders seems to like to talk about blame,” Tarrant said in his opening. “Tonight…you will hear him blame corporate America, …the wealthy, …[and] the Republicans. Blame is about the past and finger pointing.” During the debate, Sanders did sometimes hold President George Bush and the Republican congressional leadership accountable, but he did talk about the future of the country as well. “We are a great nation.” Sanders said in his opening address. “There are enormous things that we can do when we work together.” “As your United States Senator, I will not be a follow-up, I will be a leader,” Sanders said. Between the candidates’ opening and closing statements was the meat of the debate. Four panelists selected by WCAX-TV alternated in asking the candidates questions. The first candidate had 90 seconds to respond to the question, and while the other candidate was allotted 25 seconds of rebuttle, in order to fit the debate into its hour-long time slot. Candidates alternated answering each question first. Questions asked by panelists addressed key issues such as stem cell research, health care, Iraq, North Korea, jobs, abortion, social security, gas prices and the idea of an 18-year-old drinking age without federal penaltyPolitical science professor Garrison Nelson, of the University of Vermont, attended the debate and commented on the quality of the content of the debate. “I would have to say every key issue that could be covered in an hour…was covered,” Nelson said. Candidates had their own vision of America’s future regarding each issue. “Don’t tell me America can’t compete,” Tarrant said about jobs in America. “We have to bring in new jobs in Vermont. Let’s not put our heads in the sand.” Tarrant repeatedly referred to his experience in health care and business, which proved useful when addressing prescription drug, employment, and education issues. “In terms of presentation, Richie wasn’t intimidated by Bernie,” Nelson said. Sanders, true to his reputation, was not shy in expressing his opinion. “Gas prices are going down, and here’s my prediction: they’re going to continue to go down until Election Day!” Sanders said. One of the panelists reminded everyone of Sanders’ lead in recent public opinion polls, but Nelson believes that this has no effect on Sanders’ campaign. “You can never convince Bernie that he has the election in the bag,” Nelson said. “[He] always campaigns like he’s on the edge of losing. He’s a tireless campaigner and he won’t take anything for granted. “It’s Bernie’s election to lose.”