Jack Colwell: Walorski and Coleman debate debates
Friday, September 09, 2016 5:25 PM
SOUTH BEND – The spring edition of debates over debates is history, distinguished by deliberations over such issues as the size of Donald Trump’s hands, whether to discuss “your damn emails” and which candidates would have to sit at the children’s table rather than be in the big event. Now come debates over debates, fall edition.
Locally, there’s the question of whether Congresswoman Jackie Walorski will consent to debate her Democratic opponent, Lynn Coleman, somewhere, anywhere, in a televised format or any format resembling a debate.
Nationally, there’s speculation over whether Trump really will appear at all three of the scheduled presidential debates. He already has complained about the timing. And he’s sure to raise questions about whether the events are “rigged.” The vice presidential nominees will debate once, even though most of the nation isn’t paying attention to either of them.
There will be three statewide debates in Indiana involving the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian nominees for governor. In what looks like a close race between Republican Eric Holcomb and Democrat John Gregg, a really good performance or terrible gaffe could be important.
Speaking of a terrible gaffe, will there be one in the two expected televised debates featuring the U.S. Senate contenders, Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Todd Young? You know, a fatal stumble like the way Republican Richard Mourdock destroyed his chances in the last Senate debate with Joe Donnelly? You never know, but both Bayh and Young are candidates far superior to the “unusual” Mourdock.
In the 2nd Congressional District race, Coleman is pushing for debates and already accepting proposals by debate sponsors. Walorski, following her pattern of reluctance to debate, except in her first congressional race in which she was an underdog challenger, has put off deciding on any debate. No surprise on either side.
Coleman, now the underdog challenger striving to catch up to the better known incumbent in a Republican-flavored district, would welcome debating Walorski as often as possible and with live television. It would give him a better chance to get known throughout the sprawling 10-county district and to hit at Walorski’s role in Congress, an institution not high in popularity.
Walorski, like any incumbent who is better known, better funded and regarded as with the better chance to win, would just as soon avoid debates. When she finally agrees to something – and she surely will agree to at least one event – it’s not likely to be any televised debate. Maybe separate interviews on television that involve no real face-to-face debating. Politically, Walorski now has nothing to gain by debating. If polls suddenly showed she had fallen behind, then she would want to debate, counting on greater familiarity with issues as a member of Congress.
The Coleman campaign criticizes Walorski’s reluctance to debate, saying district voters “deserve an opportunity to hear how both candidates” discuss vital issues. The Walorski campaign responds that she already is going around the district discussing issues. And she has a lot more funding to send out her message in TV ads.
With the presidential debates, we don’t know what to expect. Will Trump insist on his own rules and complain about formats, panelists, moderators and days of the events, threatening not to appear if he doesn’t get his way? If he doesn’t do well in the first debate, will he refuse to participate in additional “rigged” events? But maybe he will do quite well. He’s a proven TV performer.
How will Clinton do? Will viewers find her dull if she sticks to issues or find her foolish if she tries to out-Trump Trump? And which Trump will appear? Insulting Donald of spring debates? A new Donald seeking to seem presidential?
Debates don’t often decide elections. After all, one of the most devastating lines was when Dan Quayle was put down with the jab that “you’re no Jack Kennedy.” No. But he was elected vice president.
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.