The candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado — Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democrat John Hickenlooper — took part in the third of four planned debates on Friday evening. Sponsored by Denver7, The Denver Post, and Colorado Public Radio, this 90-minute debate was more substantial than the first debate between the two candidates but stuck out immediately because of Gardner’s frantic overeagerness to cram as many words as possible into each 60-second answer.
As Mike Littwin wrote for The Colorado Sun, Friday’s debate was a perfect example of Gardner’s overly-polished and desperate efforts to change the narrative on a race that keeps trending away from him:
Gardner would win any debate with Hickenlooper on points. He’s more stylish. He’s far better on his feet. But you have to wonder if voters see Gardner as too clever by half. [Pols emphasis] Maybe the most telling statistic in the SurveyUSA poll was the comparable favorability ratings of the two candidates. Hick came in slightly above water at 48 favorable to 45 unfavorable. Gardner was well underwater with 38% favorable and 50% unfavorable.
Gardner is indeed a slick debater, but on Friday he came off once again as a bit too slick. Gardner was talking so fast that you could hear him breathing heavily when Hickenlooper or one of the other moderators were speaking. From the very first question, Gardner sounded like his voice was stuck on fast-forward. Hickenlooper did an admirable job of keeping his composure, but eventually let out an exasperated laugh after one of Gardner’s especially strained “overcaffeinated hamster” routines.
It was hard as a viewer to not feel anxiety listening to Gardner’s rapid-fire speaking style. We broke down the first two answers from Gardner and Hickenlooper in order to compare their speech patterns. Gardner’s responses averaged about 3.4 words per second, which translates to roughly 204 words per minute (wpm). Hickenlooper spoke at a pace of about 2.5 words per second, or 150 wpm.
Now, let’s provide some context for these numbers. According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the average conversational rate for English speakers in the United States is about 150 words per minute — or right at Hickenlooper’s pace. Gardner speaks MUCH faster; in fact, he speaks at a rate that is closer to an auctioneer than an average person.
Gardner even speaks faster than motivational speaker Tony Robbins, whose TED talk clocks in at around 201 wpm.
Watch for yourself, if you can:
Hickenlooper, for his part, was perceptibly more aggressive in responding to Gardner than in his first non-televised debate in Pueblo just over a week ago–but even this greater willingness to engage with Gardner was a reassuring contrast between Gardner’s frenetic sales pitch and Hickenlooper’s far more personable delivery. An excellent example came about seven and a half minutes into the video above, Hickenlooper blows up Gardner’s record on health care using a fraction of the words Gardner used to make his case:
HICKENLOOPER: First, let me just take a moment. And Cory is a fast speaker, very slick. I think you’re going to hear tonight a lot of attacks. You’re going to hear distortions, exaggerations, some outright lies. Let’s answer this question. The Affordable Care Act provided not universal coverage but dramatically increased coverage in this country, and did — as you point out — provide relief for kids in that in between age. They can stay on their parent’s plan. Protections for pre-existing conditions. I believe we have to build on the affordable care act. That’s what Barack Obama built as a foundation. And I think a sliding scale, public option gets us a long way there. Cory says that he has a bill that will provide for protecting…for extending the protections for people with pre-existing conditions. There’s no there there. They’ve had a number of — five different fact checkers say, it’s a sham. Channel 9, the other station, called it horse excrement.
After Gardner’s first debate, which was streamed to a smaller audience than either Friday night’s debate or Tuesday’s debate hosted by 9NEWS, we honestly expected Gardner’s handlers to slow his cadence down to a more conversational level that would be better received by viewers. Not only did they fail to slow Gardner down, Gardner came out with his spring so tightly wound that the desperation of every answer was excruciating to listen to. At this point, like Gardner’s fatal attraction to Donald Trump itself, we don’t think Gardner can change.
Like Charlie Sheen, Cory Gardner has one speed. One gear. Go.