Debate over debates: Candidates argue over invitationsNever mind arguing over the issues. Candidates for North Dakota’s U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats are arguing over debates – or the lack thereof.
Never mind arguing over the issues. Candidates for North Dakota’s U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats are arguing over debates – or the lack thereof.
With the November election fast approaching, no debates have been finalized in the House race, though two taped debates are expected in the Senate race.
Even though both Republicans and Democrats say they can’t wait to debate their opponents, Democratic candidates lately seem the ones most eager for the opportunity.
Despite turning down two previous invitations to debate GOP challenger Rick Berg, House incumbent Earl Pomeroy is now clamoring to go head-to-head with him during the House’s summer recess.
Similarly, Democratic candidate Tracy Potter has challenged Republican Gov. John Hoeven to agree to more Senate debates.
Aside from the campaign rhetoric coming from both political parties, each candidate’s eagerness, or lack thereof, to engage his opponent might be indicative of the candidate’s current position, said Jim Danielson, a longtime political observer and retired political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
“Oftentimes, debates are requested more by those who feel they have somewhat of a disadvantage for a campaign,” he said.
The stronger a candidate is, the more he typically has to lose by participating in a debate. But if a candidate feels he can resonate with undecided voters, he’ll tend to be more supportive of the idea, Danielson said.
Back in April, Berg accepted an invitation to debate Pomeroy at the annual North Dakota Newspaper Association convention. Pomeroy, a nine-time incumbent congressman, rejected the invite, saying it was too early to debate and that he would entertain other debates closer to the election.
Then, earlier this summer, Pomeroy turned down another debate proposed by the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce in association with KVLY/KXJB-TV, saying he instead preferred debates sponsored entirely by media organizations.
Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe said the campaign was also concerned because the national Chamber of Commerce had spent millions of dollars in anti-Pomeroy advertising over the past year.
Just days after declining the chamber event, Pomeroy issued an open invitation to Berg, desiring at least four debates before the general election.
Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum and other North Dakota TV, radio and newspaper outlets, has attempted for several weeks to arrange a statewide televised debate between the House candidates, but both sides have claimed scheduling conflicts that so far have prevented an agreed-upon date.
Pomeroy’s campaign is open to debating during the congressional break, which ends in mid-September. But Berg’s campaign cites a previous comment by Pomeroy that he didn’t want to debate before Labor Day so, because of that, Berg’s schedule is booked until mid-September, said Berg’s campaign manager, Tom Nelson.
He said Berg is available, instead, at the end of September and early October. However, by that time, U.S. Congress is back in session, making it much more difficult for Pomeroy to participate in a debate.
Pomeroy’s campaign accused Berg on Tuesday of “refusing to debate,” and both campaigns accused the other of “playing politics.”
“It seems the least Rick Berg could do is spend an hour debating the issues,” said Pomeroy spokesman Timpe. “If he’s afraid to debate Earl, he should just say so.”
Those statements were met with frustration by the Berg campaign.
“We’re in the middle of the process of finding a time, and they fire off a press release that we’ve somehow reneged,” Nelson said.
Forum Communications is still pursuing a debate with the House candidates, as are several other media outlets, according to the two campaigns.
Meanwhile, in the Senate race, Hoeven is seen by political observers as the likely favorite to win.
Although he and Potter have agreed to participate in two taped debates – hosted by the North Dakota Broadcasters Association and Prairie Public Broadcasting – Hoeven is rejecting invitations from private media companies, citing a concern that his campaign can’t accommodate all requests and, therefore, doesn’t want to give one an advantage over another.
His restriction limits the amount of debates Potter and Hoeven could have before November.
Potter challenged Hoeven this week to a “live, televised debate” – a setting that forces candidates to think on their feet and have solid command of their policy positions.
Hoeven’s campaign didn’t acknowledge Potter’s challenge, but spokesman Don Larson defended their approach, saying Potter “is going to be critical of any approach that we take.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541