O’Donnell started off with a bang, juicing through talking points like someone much more experienced. Towards the end, she slurred a little, stumbling on a Supreme Court question and retreating back to her written notes. All in all, it was a knock-up job for a newbie, as she managed to make her anti-tax, limited-government theme clear. She also had a strong foreign policy message, which was the one issue on which she said that she agreed with President Obama.When Wolf Blitzer asked O’Donnell why she announced that she wasn’t a witch in her last campaign commercial, O’Donnell replied softly but firmly: “To put it to rest, to put it behind me.” Her tone in that response was similar to her tone for most of the debate – a charming, calm candidate who has been unfairly smeared by her opponents.
Those smears have been effective; O’Donnell has lot of ground to make up before the election. But last night, she did a pretty good job of figuring out how to communicate a conservative message in a state that’s not as conservative as she is, in sharp contrast to her opponent. Coons came out hard on environmental issues, for abortion, and in favor of campaign finance reform. His message was clear and coherent, and a little dull. Taken as a whole, I’ll agree with Katrina Trinko's impressions, over at NRO:
In tone, it was a debate where O'Donnell occasionally appeared flustered but mostly held her own, sincerely and passionately arguing for her positions.