This was one debate that wasn't dull, and neither was the debate about the debate that consumed much of Baltimore today.
Thursday night's clash between Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs -- which featured an abrupt departure by Schaefer and subsequent highly personal attacks by Sachs -- may or may not have changed many votes. But it certainly upped the volume of the campaign during the dog days of July.
If nothing else, the rancorous confrontation on WBAL radio exposed aspects of the two men's characters in a race that is becoming increasingly personal with just 60 days to go before the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
A pro-Schaefer caller to WBAL immediately after the debate told radio host Joe Lombardo that the mayor's behavior illustrated his "individualism," and criticized Sachs for reducing the campaign to personalities and name-calling.
Today, as the debate was rehashed in gory detail by all the electronic media here and by the two campaigns, another caller told a WBAL talk show that the encounter showed Schaefer to be "arrogant."
The virtually all-day discussion on this city's most popular radio station was music to the ears of Sachs and his campaign staff as they try to overcome Schaefer's still formidable lead in the polls.
Sachs, who called the mayor "petulant" and "a spoiled child" after Schaefer left the debate more than an hour early, argued today that the renewed attention caused by Schaefer's behavior will boost his own campaign, revealing to a statewide electorate that the mayor is emotionally unsuited for the State House.
"This gives visible credibility to what I've been saying for over a year, that the mayor's temperament is an issue," said Sachs, noting that Schaefer had officially declined to debate, only to arrive at the station unannounced.
"The mayor's a bully. He thought he could stiff-arm his way past the rules of the debate , break them and get away with it . . . . The most lasting impression from the debate is the picture of a petulant mayor literally picking up his marbles and going home," Sachs said.
Whether the voters agree is unclear. Morning talk show host Allan Prell and WBAL officials said audience response Thursday night indicated that the debate had only hardened the opinions of many voters, who favor Schaefer in the polls by about 20 points.
The views of the woman who cited Schaefer's "individualism" reflected a fact of political life in this city where Schaefer has reigned as mayor for 15 years. The mayor's personality quirks and fabled temper -- he is known for stalking out of meetings and dressing down subordinates, other politicians and the press -- are not only widely known in Baltimore, but widely tolerated and even appreciated.
The mayor himself makes a public virtue of his impatience and short fuse. It is part of getting things done, he says. And the public sees it to some degree as a refreshing trait in a politician cut from a different mold.
Schaefer and his campaign aides said the debate proved nothing, and was more revealing of Sachs' true personality than the mayor's.
"I didn't get excited last night," said Schaefer. "He started the yelling contest. He was like a little boy who'd had a debate in high school and possibly didn't do well so he started to cry."
The public, added Schaefer, saw prosecutor Sachs in "a different light. The cool persecutor . . . all of a sudden things didn't go as he wanted."
Both sides said the debate and its aftermath today have captured the public's attention in a way that is unusual for what is normally a dormant campaign period.
WBAL, which airs talk shows virtually all day, was flooded with calls today about the debate, and is considering rebroadcasting it next week.
"It's dominating everything around here today, not only on the air, but our switchboard," said Richard Byrd, the station's director of creative projects. "I haven't seen such a response on a political event in my recollection, and I've been around Baltimore radio for 25 years."
If there was a clear winner, it was WBAL. "It really heated up the campaign," said Prell. "It's good for radio. It makes it a viable medium."
But as far as Schaefer is concerned, WBAL will have to be settle for summer reruns.
"I'm finished with debates," said the mayor.