At a time when both sides of the 209 campaign have been struggling for money and voter interest, the debate thrust the issue of affirmative action into the limelight--if not in quite the way the campaigns would have liked.
In their remarks Wednesday, Duke relied largely on anecdote, Hicks on history.
Telegenic and poised, Duke steered clear of his most controversial stances for most of his speech, hammering at the notion that affirmative action is nothing more than racism in reverse.
"Affirmative action does discriminate. There no question about that. It discriminates against white people," he said. "It is not about equal opportunity or equal chance."
He insisted that affirmative action promoted unqualified minorities at the expense of whites--who he warned would be outnumbered and outvoted as the country comes to resemble the audience he was addressing.
Complaining that Wilson had for years sanctioned affirmative action, Duke declared: "He reminds me of the town harlot who suddenly finds religion."
Hicks challenged Duke's portrayal of whites as victims, saying that history has conferred advantages on whites that statistics show have not been erased.
"Study after study has shown," he said, that whites are more likely to be hired than similarly qualified blacks, and earn more money for similar jobs.
Hicks lambasted Duke's reliance on anecdotes. "When you put them under the microscope and try to find the facts, they evaporate," he said.
As for Duke's complaints of reverse discrimination, Hicks said: "That is the cry of every unqualified white guy who gets aced out of a job."
Reminding Duke of the racially mixed heritage of many Americans, Hicks at one point quipped, "David, check that family tree."
The audience in the tightly secured hall was clearly in Hicks' corner. They cheered so often during his opening remarks that the moderator warned them that they were cutting into his time.
But they were polite as well to Duke, who clearly recognized this as a rare opportunity to sell a national audience on his image as a clean-cut representative of new conservative politics. "The media caricature is quite different," he told reporters after the debate. "People had a chance to see the real me."
CSUN President Blenda Wilson blamed the rowdiness on outsiders.
"Everyone should be aware that the altercations took place outside," she said. "None of them were [Northridge] students or staff."
"My sense is that the preparations were adequate and necessary," she said of the beefed-up campus security.
She did not attend the debate, she said, because "I was not interested in hearing Mr. Duke. . . . I don't find him an admirable being."
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Julie Tamaki, Beth Shuster, John M. Glionna, Jose Cardenas, Eric Slater, Doug Smith and Martha L. Willman contributed to this story.
Battle of Ideas and Causes
* PROTESTERS: Volatile mix at campus leads to violence. Page B1
* POLITICAL THEATER: Everyone wanted to get in on the act. Page B1
* QUOTABLE: Revealing the essence of each man's message. Page B3