Posing Speaks More Than Words at Rotary Debate

Anne Northup and John Yarmuth have shared the same stage a lot in their campaign for the 3rd District seat in Congress. Today, they traded barbs and insults at the Galt House as guests of the Downtown Rotary Club. I doubt anyone in attendance changed their mind as a result of the candidate’s performances, and I guess that Northup would have carried this room in a landslide.

What I  noticed, though, was the candidates’ body language. The format was that each candidate spoke for two minutes, then relinquished the floor to the other. This went on for about 45 minutes. If you only heard, and didn’t see it, you’d have  noticed Northup’s voice rising in anger on several occasions, and that Yarmuth used humor and sarcasm a lot more. Each addressed the other directly.

When Northup spoke, Yarmuth turned his body toward her and seemed focused on what she was saying. When Yarmuth spoke, however, Northup stared straight ahead or down at her notes. I didn’t once see her acknowledge her opponent visually. Even when she was speaking, she never looked his way.

Meaningful? Perhaps not, but I got the impression that her anger is just below the surface, and that she knows she could lose.  It also seemed to me that when she spoke of her views on Iraq and terror, she knew it was a tactical risk and didn’t give it the emotional force that she reserved for topics like health care and the bridges.

She said it was time for a new quarterback, referring to her desire for Donald Rumsfeld to step down. It’s a new position for her, and she didn’t seem comfortable with the material. Yarmuth’s response was effective — saying that what needed to happen for the country was for George Bush to fire Rumsfeld and show some leadership.  Northup’s football analogy was suspect as well, as if getting rid of the guy running the show might solve all of the team’s problems. It goes a lot deeper than that. Ask the Dallas Cowboys.