Candidates Say 'No Thanks' to Debates
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer stunned political observers earlier this month when, during a televised debate against challenger Terry Goddard, she paused for more than 10 seconds while delivering her opening statement, apparently unable to find the right words. The pause drew widespread negative attention to her campaign — The Associated Press described it as " one of the most painful openings to a political debate in recent memory " - and a YouTube video of it had attracted nearly 2 million views as of last week.
The incident also made Brewer, a Republican, adjust her campaign strategy. The next day, she announced that she wouldn't be participating in any more debates against Goddard, a Democrat, even going as far as to say that she agreed to the first one only because it was required to qualify for $1.7 million in public campaign financing.
Brewer's decision means Arizona voters will have just one chance to see their major-party gubernatorial candidates square off in a public forum, a fact that has not been lost on critical editorial boards. "No business would hire a leader without a thorough interview, where job candidates' critical-thinking skills, managerial acumen and vision would be examined in detail," The Arizona Daily Star wrote . "Arizona voters should expect no less."
Voters in other states also are finding a dearth of gubernatorial debates this year, as candidates wrangle over terms and conditions and evaluate whether a debate would help or hurt their chances. In at least two other states where budget problems are of paramount concern — Michigan and Oregon — gubernatorial candidates also have agreed to just a single debate, raising questions from the press over whether voters will be able to make informed decisions.
"Oregon voters must decide who will lead this state out of one of its darkest times. It's a huge choice. And it should not be made only on the basis of carefully scripted campaign appearances, ghost-written issue papers and slick TV ads," The Oregonian wrote . "And yet that's all many voters will see of (Republican) Chris Dudley and (Democrat) John Kitzhaber unless the two campaigns stop posturing and jockeying and agree to a series of joint appearances in the dwindling weeks left before one of the most important elections in Oregon history."
In Michigan, "Tackling the state budget is going to be a bear," The Grand Rapids Press wrote , urging Democrat Virg Bernero and Republican Rick Snyder to stop bickering over details and finally agree to a debate. "Podium placement and camera angles ought to be a cake walk by comparison."