Sabato, who moderated the only statewide televised gubernatorial debate between Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore last year, says Kaine's rebuttal lacked oomph. A gifted trial lawyer who at times trounced Kilgore, Kaine came off flat and dry last week, he says.
"The lampooned slogan, 'a better way,' was not ideal," Sabato says. He and others have associated Kaine's 'better way' slogan with the 1972 movie "The Candidate" starring Robert Redford, he says. In this election drama, Redford's character, Bill McKay, runs for office with the campaign slogan, "A better way, McKay."
Robert Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, agrees that the slogan fell flat. But Kaine held his own, Holsworth says. "I'd give him a pretty high grade," he says. "I think he represented Virginia well. I think he spoke for Democrats well.
"Stylistically, he was a little nervous. The initial response was positive until Jon Stewart came out on 'The Daily Show' and trashed him."
Last week comedian Stewart slammed Kaine, saying he lacked "passion, insight or any sign of carbon-based life." He even likened the Executive Mansion setting complete with a fire in the fireplace to "Liberace's parlor room."
No one can match the majesty of the president in the Capitol with thousands of viewers, the professors say. (The audience figures were tiny for the rebuttal.) "I think he did as well as he could as someone giving the out-of-party response," Sabato says.
Poor performances by Kaine's predecessors helped to curve the grade, says Daniel Palazzolo, chairman of the political science department at the University of Richmond. "Compared to what I've seen, I think he did all right," he says. "I think Kaine has the ability to connect better through his speech than Warner."
Palazzolo characterized Kaine's "better way" line as a middle-of-the-road or safe attempt at maintaining both Democrat constituents and bipartisan support.
Kaine was saying: "We're OK with the goals, just not the methods. He was trying to have his way with both," offers Palazzolo. "I think he achieved it without being overly strident."
"We'll give him a 'B' because it's the beginning of the semester," Sabato says.
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