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Hill Republicans in tough battles not thrilled with Trump debate style

‘Omaha doesn’t like that,’ Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon says

Republican Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, one of the most vulnerable House members seeking reelction, said President Donald Trump did not do himself any favors with his debate performance.
Republican Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, one of the most vulnerable House members seeking reelction, said President Donald Trump did not do himself any favors with his debate performance. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House and Senate Republicans in tough reelection battles said Wednesday that President Donald Trump did not do them any favors in his first debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“With the debate interrupting and name calling — Omaha doesn’t like that,” said Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon, one of the 10 most vulnerable House members seeking reelection. He faces a rematch against Democrat Kara Eastman.

Trump carried Nebraska’s 2nd District by 2 points in 2016, the same margin Bacon beat Eastman by in 2018. But Bacon told CQ Roll Call it could be a problem for both of them if he continues to use the same tactics.

“It hurts him and it hurts his team,” Bacon said. “If he talked about his accomplishments, our district is very slightly right, center right, his policies by and large are appealing to the majority. The people want more respectful dialogue and I think last night was not that.”

Bacon also said Biden shares some blame, citing the former vice president calling Trump a “clown” at one point.

Several times during Tuesday’s debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News tried to get the president to abide by rules his campaign agreed to, including allowing Biden two minutes uninterrupted to answer questions. On Wednesday, the bipartisan commission that runs presidential debates said in a statement it was looking at “additional structure” for the two remaining meetups “to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

The Trump campaign opposed any change, however.

“They’re only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn’t be moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

But if the tactics were working, that was not evident from what senators in battleground races said on Capitol Hill.

“I did not think it was helpful in educating the American people,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, according to a pool report. “It was the least educational debate of any presidential debate I’ve ever seen.”

Collins said there was interrupting “on both sides.”

“The name calling was very unbecoming for a presidential debate,” she said.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, another vulnerable incumbent whose race against veteran Cal Cunningham could be one of the most expensive in the country, agreed when asked by a pool reporter on Capitol Hill if there should be a different format in the next debate.

“Yeah. I’d like to get more to a point where we’re discussing the issues like Joe Biden not answering the question about the courts, you know, really forced them on answering questions that he blatantly said he wouldn’t answer,” Tillis said. Biden refused to say if he’d support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court or ending the 60-vote requirement in the Senate to end debate on legislation.

Tillis himself rebuffed a question, however, on whether Trump should have denounced white supremacists when asked to do so. Tillis, who won his seat in 2014 by a 2-point margin in a state Trump carried by 4 points, said he knew the president was not a racist, and he did not think Trump’s answer would affect the race in North Carolina.

“My race is about Cal Cunningham breaking tax pledges,” Tillis said. “It’s about him supporting the Green New Deal and then opposed to the Green New Deal. It’s about them supporting packing the courts. That’s what people in North Carolina are concerned with.”

Tillis’, Collins’ and Bacon’s races are all rated Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

One Trump ally who is not on the ballot his year supported changing the way debates are run.

“I hope the next debate is a more illuminating,” South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune said after an uncomfortable laugh when asked if the debate was what his party needed right now, according to a Capitol pool report. “It’s just hard for, if you need any undecided voters, it’s gonna be hard … when both sides are talking over each other.”

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