Ah… September. The leaves are just starting to fall, the kids are heading back to school, and other time honored autumnal traditions like “debate dodging” are back in full swing!
What’s debate dodging you ask? Simply put, debate dodging occurs when an incumbent politician avoids, reschedules, pushes back, or does anything else to avoid debating their opponent? In 2012, it’s once again happening all over the country. From Minnesota to Florida, and as far away as Utah and Iowa, incumbent Congressmen and Senators are trying to avoid giving their opponent the enormous advantage of… appearing in a debate? What could an incumbent possibly have to lose by debating a challenger? Actually, a lot. Practically speaking, debates afford mostly underfunded challenger candidates a free media platform to connect with voters and share their ideas, often with earned media news coverage in the following day’s news cycle. Debates are more important than ever in today’s crazy world of campaign finance, because they’re often the only hour or two of the entire campaign cycle where both candidates are on an even footing, with an (relatively) unscripted outcome. In other words… democracy in action?
How can we solve the debate dodging problem? Some challenger candidates are unleashing creative taunts and barbs in the direction of uncooperative incumbents, in hopes of building enough pressure and public demand to force a debate. As linked above, Democrat Brian Barnes of Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional district recently went so far as to challenge incumbent GOP Congressman Erik Paulsen to some creative Minnesota State Fair themed competitions in lieu of an actual discussion of the issues, causing Comedy Central’s Ilya Gerner to comment:
“With many incumbents loath to share a stage with their challengers, when they can instead pummel them with direct mail and media buys, congressional debates organized by local media are going the way of the
Dodo birdcompetitive congressional election… Issue-oriented voters may be the losers here, but at least this race offers a window on to the future of American politics: future elections will be settled by reality-show themed competitions and eating contests, if creative pols like Barnes have anything to say about it… Unfortunately, with the Fair ending yesterday, it doesn’t appear that Paulsen took up the challenge, but with any luck, politicians will soon be stuffing pork into somewhere other than just their districts.”
Here at Independent Voters of America, we’ll do our best to hold “debate dodgers” accountable. If any of your local or federal politicians are dodging debates, call or email them and let them know you think it’s disgraceful, and then leave their name and contact information in the comment thread below so that others can do the same. And if this practice persists through November 6, hopefully we’ll see some more political ads like this spot: