Commentary: Democrats Are Afraid to Debate GOP Opponents

by David Catron


Americans have long since come to expect debates between candidates for major public office. For many voters, these encounters provide the only opportunity to see how competing candidates comport themselves in a venue that is nominally beyond their control. In close contests, these debates can sometimes be crucial to the final outcome. Yet, as the November midterms rapidly approach, many Democrats have been extremely reluctant to meet their Republican opponents face-to-face on a debate stage. Indeed, in several high-profile contests, they have flatly refused to do so.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) is the latest Democrat to back out of a public debate with a Republican challenger. The NH Journal reports that the senator’s campaign contacted the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, which was to have hosted the debate, and announced that Hassan would pull out of the event if she would be required to appear on stage alongside retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc. According to Chamber President Wendy Hunt, both campaigns had previously agreed to participate in this standard debate format. Now, Hassan’s campaign presumably believes it can run out the clock because she seems to be leading in the polls.

But an email to donors from the Senator’s campaign manager, Aaron Jacobs, warns that “the polls are sugar-coated for any Democratic candidate.” His email, which was originally reported by Axios, adds the following: “Our own internal polling shows that Don Bolduc is quickly consolidating the Republican base and is rapidly making up ground against Senator Hassan.” This is particularly significant because, due to New Hampshire’s late primaries, Bolduc has been the official GOP nominee for less than a month. The Bolduc campaign responded to Hassan’s refusal to debate him with the following statement:

Senator Hassan’s refusal to stand on stage beside General Bolduc is perfectly understandable but also entirely unacceptable.… Public officials owe it to the people they are seeking to represent to make the case directly and answer their questions, not hide behind attack ads sponsored by special interests in Washington. This is the action of a desperate politician who knows she is going to face the music from voters in a few short weeks and her time in politics is running out.

Another high-profile contest that features a debate-shy Democrat is the Arizona gubernatorial race. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs justifies her refusal to face off with Republican nominee Kari Lake with this word salad: “Unfortunately, debating a conspiracy theorist like Kari Lake — whose entire campaign platform is to cause enormous chaos and make Arizona the subject of national ridicule — would only lead to constant interruptions, pointless distractions, and childish name-calling.” Lake is a former television journalist who excels in the cut and thrust of political combat. This is, of course, the actual reason Hobbs won’t face her.

Hobbs’ refusal to debate Lake is particularly risky, considering that the latter holds a slight lead in the polls, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Hobbs is clearly counting on the corporate media to provide her safe spaces where she can accuse Lake, who has been endorsed by former President Trump, of extremism without being questioned about her controversial tenure in the Arizona Senate. Hobbs, as it happens, was found guilty of racial discrimination against staff while she was Minority Leader of that body. Lake reminds Arizona voters of that sordid episode in a video response to Hobbs’ refusal to face her in a debate:

For the first time in the history of our state there will be no Clean Elections gubernatorial debate. Bucking state tradition my opponent, Katie Hobbs, made it official: She will not share a debate stage with me under any circumstance. To be honest, I’m not thrilled with the idea of sharing a debate stage with a twice convicted racist like Katie Hobbs. I have made it abundantly clear that I would do so because the Arizona voters deserve nothing less than to hear from both of us.

Yet another high-profile race in which a Democrat refuses to face a Republican opponent involves Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial contest. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running against GOP State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has challenged the former to debate him in a venue where the media can’t run interference (à la Candy Crowley). Mastriano has instead proposed an arrangement whereby he and Shapiro would pick moderators of their own choice and field questions from both during an October debate. Shapiro refuses to consider any such arrangement, and dismisses any suggestion that the legacy media is biased.

That claim was debunked last Friday during a debate between GOP Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes. The event was broadcast from the studios of Milwaukee PBS, and the first question asked had nothing to do with top voter issues like inflation, the economy, crime, or illegal immigration. It was about, as the questioner phrased it, “the topic of marijuana legislation.” The next question was about the exigencies of cash bail. By that point it had become clear that the event was little more than a media showcase for Mandela Barnes. This is what Democrats expect, and usually get, in a “debate.”

Some Democrats have tried to avoid even this kind of softball tournament. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman used every dodge in the book to avoid debating his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Fetterman finally caved under public pressure and will allegedly debate Dr. Oz once on October 25. Likewise, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) stalled as long as possible before agreeing to a single debate with GOP challenger Tiffany Smiley. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) temporized as long as he could before finally accepting a single debate proposed by Republican challenger Herschel Walker on October 14.

Sadly, the above list of Democrats by no means exhausts the list of those who don’t want to stand next to their GOP opponents on a stage and discuss the issues that voters care about. This is not, as some have suggested, because debates are “going out of style.” It is an artifact of Democratic ineptitude from President Biden and Congress down to blue state governors and big city mayors. These people have not merely failed to solve the myriad problems facing most Americans, they have in many cases created them. Think about it. Would you like to stand on a stage and defend the dumpster fire that passes for Democratic governance?

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David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
Photo “Maggie Hassan” by Maggie Hassan. Photo “Katie Hobbs” by Katie Hobbs. Photo “Josh Shapiro” by Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Background Photo “U.S. Capitol” by Martin Falbisoner. CC BY-SA 3.0.



Appeared at and reprinted from The American Spectator

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