Lincoln Journal Star. August 25, 2022.
Editorial: Nebraskans deserve to see candidates debate
Political debates are a long standing Nebraska tradition, usually in a series of faceoffs between candidates for major offices that begins at the State Fair.
But there will be no State Fair gubernatorial debate this year or likely any other opportunity for Democratic nominee Carol Blood to meet her Republican opponent Jim Pillen on a debate platform.
Why? Because Pillen is refusing to debate and has declined invitations from the fair and NTV News. He did the same during the GOP primary campaign, participating in “forums” but turning down debates where journalists would have asked the questions.
Contrary to the Pillen campaign’s unverifiable assertion that he has been “the most accessible gubernatorial candidate in Nebraska’s history,” debates are not about in-person accessibility and one-on-one contact with voters.
Rather, they serve an important function in the “job interview” that is a political campaign.
By putting candidates together on a stage, with questions coming from an independent moderator, debates first allow voters to see how candidates elucidate their positions and policies outside of the controlled environments of campaign event.
Then as the candidates interact, they give voters an idea of how well candidates think on their feet and communicate while defending or asserting their positions, qualities as important in judging a potential office holder as their positions on issues.
There is, it must be acknowledged, a risk to debating.
At the 1988 U.S. Senate State Fair debate, Sen. David Karnes committed a campaign killing gaffe, saying, “We need fewer farmers” in Nebraska, in essence handing the race to Bob Kerrey two months before voters went to the polls.
There is also another, even less democratic reason for Pillen’s refusal to appear with Blood in a forum that would be widely seen across the state.
Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 250,000 voters. Without any widely seen forum that could give visibility to the Democratic candidate and expose potential vulnerabilities in the GOP candidate, those Republicans are almost certainly to mark their ballots for their party’s candidate.
The chance that the debates could help the Democrat hasn’t seemed to bother the GOP candidates and campaigns, who have participated in gubernatorial debates since at least 1980 – with the exception of 2010, when the first Democratic nominee dropped out of the race and Gov. Dave Heineman, who had debated four years earlier, didn’t meet the second nominee.
Nor should it be of concern to Pillen and his handlers. As the nominee of the state’s dominant party, he should participate in at least one debate with Blood to, if nothing else, demonstrate what kind of leader he would be if he takes Nebraska’s highest office.
Ducking a debate might be a smart politics, but it’s not good for the people.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.