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At the Sunday evening debate between Russ Carnahan and Ed Martin, Martin was in his element–or should I say among his element? 250-300 people crowded the Arnold Recreation Center in Jefferson County, and nine out of ten of them supported Martin. I couldn’t attend the Friday debate at Forest Park Community College, which is the northern tip of Carnahan’s district, so I can’t speak to the proportion of each man’s supporters that night. But Jefferson County, at the southern tip of the district, has a boatload of white conservatives.

Fortunately, they were–by Tea Party standards anyway–calm and civil. But that’s only Tea Party standards. I know what the far right is like at its toxic worst. In August of 2009, I attended McCaskill’s town hall in Hillsboro, and the hate and anger pressed down on me like a huge, sooty fist that day. I’ll never forget it. By contrast, Sunday night’s crowd was merry, though always at Carnahan’s expense. Give Ed Martin this much: he has a knack for belittling another person. No matter how logically Carnahan presented his viewpoint, Martin mocked him. He played to the crowd, and they ate it up.

Carnahan can speak clearly, but he’s not inspirational. In the following clip, he answers two separate questions about health care reform, and each time, Martin begins his response by flattening Carnahan.

When the candidates explained whether they support repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Carnahan said that the military needs talented people, whether they’re gay or straight, so he supports repeal. Martin translated that for the crowd as “Congressman Carnahan supports gay marriage. He doesn’t care what Missourians think….” That response was far enough away from any attempt to answer the question that Martin drew a mild rebuke from the moderator. But he was too high on the crowd’s adulation to show any compunction.

The audience laughed and hooted as Martin put words in Carnahan’s mouth. For instance, Carnahan said, speaking about abortion, that women should be allowed to choose for themselves. Martin “translated” again: “He’s for abortion.” The audience occasionally booed, like when Carnahan called Martin out for the Eckersley scandal or when he said we should wean ourselves off of oil dependence. But on the whole, they had a great time watching their man of the hour walk all over that mean, nasty liberal elite, that “member of the ruling class.”

You know. The one who wants them to have affordable health care. What an ogre.