Jan Brewer’s cringe inducing debate performance received more media attention, but there was another debate on Wednesday night that may have been more important. Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer met for their first (and potentially only) debate of the election season. It is one of the “dirty dozen” contests that will determine whether the GOP retakes the majority in the Senate.

Democrats enjoy a huge advantage in statewide California elections. In 2008, 44% registered Democratic, 31% registered Republican and 20% Independent (Decline to State). Despite the uneven playing field, Fiorina and Boxer were polling in a dead heat going into the debate. I generally have very low expectations for political debates, and perhaps that is why I was pleasantly surprised.

My impressions: Both candidates acquitted themselves well and were very well prepared. It was a good debate. A sample clip:

They clearly had different objectives, and I think they both accomplished what they set out to do. With her big registration advantage, Boxer just needed to play to her base. California voters already know Boxer and her shtick. She just needed to be the senator her base expects and not make mistakes. If she can get the Democrats off their collective asses and voting in force, she should win this going away. But this year, with 60 days to go, with Democrats feeling lethargic and uninspired, that appears to be a mighty big “if”.

Fiorina had more at stake in this debate, as I suspect this was the first time that many California voters started to pay attention to this election. This was Fiorina’s chance to make a first impression on voters who do not know her well. She needed to look senatorial, competent, and in command of the issues facing the state. Debates are as much about TV, presence and image as they are about issues. From that perspective, she knocked it out of the park. She came across as smart, articulate and tough with a detailed understanding of the issues – basically a strong business woman. Fiorina could have easily blown her chances with a stumble in this debate, but instead she inspired confidence.

Most post-mortems called it close or a draw. I’m guessing she was good enough for a bump in the polls that will put her in the lead.

That said, there was one major issue that has emerged in this contest that I did not feel qualified to judge. So I asked my wife who had the better hair. She did not hesitate – Carly. Done deal. Carly wins this round.

In other election news, the blogosphere was abuzz with Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Prognostication:

“In the Senate, we now believe the GOP will do a bit better than our long-time prediction of +7 seats. Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8 (or maybe +9, at which point it will be interesting to see how senators such as Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and others react). GOP leaders themselves did not believe such a result was truly possible just a few months ago. If the Republican wave on November 2 is as large as some polls are suggesting it may be, then the surprise on election night could be a full GOP takeover. Since World War II, the House of Representatives has flipped parties on six occasions (1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006). Every time, the Senate flipped too, even when it had not been predicted to do so. These few examples do not create an iron law of politics, but they do suggest an electoral tendency.”

Hmmm. Seems like I recently read something similar.

Politics Boxer vs. Fiorina