Debates on, then off, now on again

Posted by John Kanelis on

They were on, then off, now they're on again.

Texas's candidates for governor now plan to debate each other. They've been sniping at each other from some distance. Now they're going to go face to face, look each other in the eye and tell Texans why they should get their vote.

Analysis: To Debate or Not to Debate?

The question posed by Texas Tribune's Ross Ramsey is an excellent one. However, for my money it has a clearcut answer.

Why debate? I believe Texans need to see how the candidates for the state's top office handle themselves when challenged.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is the clear frontrunner against Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis in the race for governor. The two candidates will meet Sept. 30 in a televised debate. Public station KERA-TV out of Dallas is one of the hosts for the event; the others are the Dallas Morning News, KXAS (NBC) and Telemundo.

As Ramsey notes, "That's not necessarily the end of the matter." The candidates are jockeying for advantage over their opponent. There might be more negotiating over whether to expand the number of debates.

Ramsey says Abbott is campaigning as if he were the incumbent. He's not, of course. Abbott, though, is running on the dominant political ticket, the Republican Party. He likely figures a single debate is sufficient. Underdogs in these races want more, not fewer, debates -- which likely is Davis's wish.

Back to Ramsey's question about why have these debates. He writes:

"Want to make Texas’ sorry voter turnout look vigorous? Compare it with the number of people who watch political debates on television.

"People watch highlight reels, when highlights exist, and otherwise lead their happy and productive lives while minimizing interruptions from ambitious carpers struggling for their attention. If anything newsworthy happens in the debate, they can find out later from professional or amateur or social media. Word will get out, if it needs to."

Indeed, the Texas voter turnout likely won't get close to 50 percent, which is terrible by anyone definition.

Would a single debate, or multiple joint appearances, boost that figure? My sense is that it might, particularly if one of the candidates makes news, such as committing a serious stumble or if one of them scores serious points at the other's expense.

Whatever the number of debates, I'm glad that Abbott and Davis have agreed to meet other in the same venue.

Texans deserve to see how they handle themselves against the other's attacks.

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