Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Why Campaigns Spend So Much Time Debating Debates

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Why Campaigns Spend So Much Time Debating Debates

Article excerpt

Debates between political candidates campaigning for an office provide one of the best opportunities for voters to contrast the positions of candidates.

But there are different ways campaigns approach the planning of debates, which brings us to another election year tradition: debates between campaigns -- about debates. Staffers will bicker over just about every facet of a debate: the length and format, the number of questions asked, and even the seating arrangement. All are fair game, and both Republicans and Democrats do it.

And in every election cycle, there's almost always several races in which the private bickering over those details becomes a public dispute, with one campaign accusing the other campaign of "refusing to debate" or "hiding from the public." I should know: In 1998, as a young staffer for the Republican Party of Minnesota, I donned a chicken suit to make fun of DFLer Skip Humphrey for "skipping" debates in the governor's race.

This year, the most conspicuous example of the phenomenon is between two candidates running for Congress in Minnesota's Second Congressional District: Democrat Angie Craig and Republican Jason Lewis.

On Friday, both candidates participated in a debate on TPT's "Almanac," a discussion that also included Independence Party candidate Paula Overby.

It was the first debate between Craig and Lewis, though the debate over debates had been going for several days by then. Earlier in the week, Lewis' campaign issued a press release claiming Craig "continues to avoid debates," including the allegation Craig "canceled her appearance at the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce debate..."

While it is true the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce canceled a planned debate between the candidates, Craig's campaign never said they confirmed Craig would attend the debate. Chamber President Vicki Stute wrote Craig decided "not to participate"; Stute never claimed Craig had agreed to participate in the debate.

There is a difference between a candidate canceling an appearance at a debate and a campaign deciding not to schedule their candidate to participate. But a day later, Lewis' campaign issued another press release claiming Craig was declining to "participate in another debate." This one because Craig refused a debate invitation from the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce.

Again, the charge against Craig is not that she was canceling a scheduled debate appearance, but that she was not accepting the invitation to participate in the first place. Making this all the more messy: While Lewis' campaign was attacking Craig for declining debate invitations, Lewis' campaign declined the invitation to participate in a debate hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council, an invitation which Craig had accepted. …

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