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 TIME on politics TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and TIME

Debate notebook: On television, a spectacle -- but in Phoenix, a quiet night

By Ian Christopher McCaleb/CNN

December 7, 1999
Web posted at: 10:57 a.m. EST (1557 GMT)

PHOENIX (CNN) -- One half a block away from Phoenix's celebrated Orpheum Theater on Monday night, one might never have been convinced that a debate of great national importance, an event key to the continued success of a well-oiled democratic government, was taking place anywhere within this gleaming Sonoran Desert city.

Downtown Phoenix was languid. A handful of the city's more hearty urbanites lingered in coffee shops and storefront cafes as rush hour came and went, the streets surrounding the theater free of most motor and pedestrian traffic. A fairly ordinary night in this part of the city, all told. At the Orpheum, Phoenix's monument to the great 1920s economic and mass culture explosions, there was little in place to suggest that the next leader of the democratic world might be anywhere nearby.

Phoenix, it seems, was not willing to make the same sort of stink over this crop of GOP presidential hopefuls that the onetime textile mill-rich city of Manchester, New Hampshire, displayed last Thursday night. Absent were the rowdy well-wishers awaiting their favorite candidate. There were no good-natured eccentrics milling about, hoping to gather an audience. The streets surrounding the theater were occupied only by a handful of satellite trucks -- no campaign buses blaring loud music, and no chanting crowds.

Rather, the plaza in front of the theater's main entrance held a crowd of some 60 - 70, many waiting patiently for their Arizona Republican Party ticket connections to show up, while others passed out campaign literature. Even the police maintained a low profile, with fewer than 10 officers counted outside the theater and the adjacent Phoenix City Hall -- which housed CNN's broadcast and online operations, and the filing center for scads of national reporters.

Indeed, Monday's GOP debate was about as fuss- and muss-free as is to be expected from a happening loaded with the potential for mishap or chaos. Phoenix, this ever-expanding metropolitan oasis buffeted by some rather inhospitable desert and mountain terrain, just doesn't appear to have been designed for the out-of-control, the unpredictable.

Sen. John McCain  

Arizona Sen. John McCain continues to make light of his standing with his colleagues in the upper chamber of the United States Congress, and of his ability to play nicely in its corridors. Quizzed about a recent comment that good teachers should be paid as much as a "bad" member of the Senate -- some $140,000 annually -- McCain quipped, "Who am I to say? There are no bad senators. I win the 'Miss Congeniality' award in the Senate every year."

"Teachers don't need as much as $140,000 a year," McCain continued, adding, "But, perhaps some senators don't need $140,000 a year either."

McCain, who appeared at his home state debate via a satellite linkup from Boston, was given a boost by some Republican members of Arizona's congressional delegation, many of whom cornered reporters before and after the debate to express their support and admiration for the maverick senator. Sen. John Kyl, and conservative representatives J.D. Hayworth and Matt Salmon each took turns talking McCain up in the press room.

Gov. George W. Bush  

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumed frontrunner for the GOP's presidential nomination, appeared quite ready to do battle with his opponents Monday night. Bush displayed an air of confidence, perhaps cockiness in several instances, and maintained steady eye contact with his opponents, most notably magazine publisher Steve Forbes.

Bush appeared ready to bear the brunt of a verbal barrage that never materialized from his opponents, though he was challenged mildly by Forbes and conservative activist Gary Bauer in the issues of oil prices and U.S. trade relations with the People's Republic of China.

Bush is savvy enough to know that the barrage he expected in Phoenix will come to pass, and he will likely keep his defenses up at Iowa's Republican debate next Monday night. Bush almost physically leaned into questions as they were asked of him in Phoenix -- and appeared braced to absorb the shock of any curveball or stinging observation thrown his way. They didn't come Monday, but they're waiting for him, and Bush knows it.

Sen. Orrin Hatch  

Monday's candidate question-and-answer format obviously did not work to the satisfaction of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who by the luck of the draw ended up as the last contestant allowed to ask a question of his fellow candidates during the two-round phase of the debate.

Each of Hatch's questions was directed at conservative commentator Alan Keyes, who was not asked questions by the other participants. On the first go-round, Hatch looked across the stage at Keyes and said, "Well, you're all that's left Alan," adding, "You're plenty, you're great."

When the second round neared completion and again, Keyes was the only candidate to whom Hatch would be allowed to pose a question, the senator said, "I can't think of a better person I'd like to be stuck with."

And Keyes, who has accused national media outlets in engaging in a form of "racism" by "ignoring" his campaign, said last week's New Hampshire candidate forum did his campaign a world of good.

Alan Keyes  

Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of Monday's event in Phoenix, Keyes said, "In spite of the 'blackout' imposed, the invisible man was seen by millions of Americans, and they liked what they saw.

"I wish I could applaud all of you in the media for such fairness," Keyes continued, "But I certainly can't."

After his terse statement, Keyes solicited questions from the media, but did not allow much time for any to be brought before he quickly departed the press conference stage.


See how CNN readers rated the candidates' performances


Arizona Republican debate (12-6-99) video Windows Media: 28K | 80K


Arizona Republican debate - part 2 (12-6-99) video Windows Media: 28K | 80K


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Tuesday, December 7, 1999

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