If you like election-year debates, last night provided great television fare with the two candidates running for representative of the 122nd Legislative District Rep. Doyle Heffley and Ronald Rabenold facing off at Penn's Peak, followed by the vice presidential showdown in Danville, Ky.

A third faceoff, between Republican candidate Laureen Cummings, and her Democratic opponent, attorney Matt Cartwright, for the 17th Congressional District, which includes parts of Carbon and Schuylkill counties, should have also been on the evening lineup card at the Peak but Cartwright decided to blow off the debate. He thus became the evening's biggest loser, depriving local voters from getting to know more about him and his platform ideas.

Cummings, who won the debate by default, has already proven she can go toe-to-toe against Cartwright in the debate arena. A self-made home health nursing agency owner, Cummings may not have the campaign bankroll of the Lackawanna County attorney, but she certainly has a grasp of the issues and her strong conservative values have made her a Tea Party favorite.

Cummings favors replacing our complicated taxing system with a "fair tax" which would move us to a national sales tax. She feels this would replace the income tax and help rescue entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The atmosphere at the Peak last night was quite civil compared to vice president Joe Biden's debate performance in Kentucky against Paul Ryan later in the evening. It's clear that after President Obama's debate disaster, Democratic strategists sent Biden in as an attack dog. But what came across to viewers was a smirking, laughing, disrespectful candidate who looked smug and arrogant.

As one analyst put it, Biden seemed like "a cranky old man debating a polite young man." If one heard the debate on radio, you could argue that Biden was strong and took the debate to Ryan. But the television split screen showing Biden sneering and laughing at Ryan's answers made him look almost deranged and scary. The strange demeanor reminded us of actor Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker character with that bizarre painted-on smile in the old Batman movie.

One of the new revelations Biden did provide us with concerned the terrorist attack against the U.S. consulate in Libya on Sept. 11. When Biden revealed that "we (administration) weren't told they (embassy officials) wanted more security" he was essentially blaming the intelligence community for the information disconnect over the tragic attack that resulted in the deaths of four Americans. There are many loose ends in the State Department/White House accounts that deserve answers, especially for the grieving loved ones who have been kept in the dark.

The three Republicans we heard from last night local candidates Rep. Heffley and Cummings, and then Rep. Ryan in the vice presidential debate effectively explained the GOP doctrine which calls for a leaner government, lower taxes, and entrepreneurship in the private sector to get the economy moving.

During an Ohio campaign stop with Mitt Romney earlier this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was blunt and direct in talking about the role of government and how its regulations have put a stranglehold on businesses, including Pennsylvania's coal industry.

"We just need to get government the hell out of the way and let you succeed," Christie said.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]