Debate Follies

In most cases, I don’t think political debates change a lot of minds. But in this year’s rather wacky election season, there have been some doozies that could make a difference.

First is the Pennsylvania senatorial debate that Scott wrote about here. Democratic nominee John Fetterman was exposed as incapable of functioning at an adequate level. Mehmet Oz is now viewed as a clear favorite in the race, as reflected in betting odds:

What I don’t understand is why anyone was surprised. Fetterman’s condition has long been obvious to anyone who paid attention. But it looks like his debate performance may have been the tipping point.

Then we have New York, where Rep. Lee Zeldin has come storming from behind in his race against incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul, who took office when Andy Cuomo resigned. Zeldin was able to pin Hochul down to just one debate, which took place last night. By all accounts, it was a great night for Zeldin, and Real Clear Politics now rates the race a toss-up–a stunning decline for Hochul, who once had a 24-point lead in the polls.

Hochul had a tough night, but her headline blunder came when she seemed to express puzzlement over Zeldin’s demand that criminals be locked up: “I don’t know why that’s so important to you,” Hochul said. [UPDATE: While I was writing this, Scott did a post on the New York debate, immediately below.]

But at least Fetterman and Hochul showed up. Give them credit for that. In Arizona, Republican contender Kari Lake has been hounding Democrat Katie Hobbs for an opportunity to square off in public. But Hobbs resolutely refuses to debate. That might be a good decision, given how much more skilled and prepared Lake is. This brief video shows Katie Hobbs in action:

I suspect that, while understandable, Hobbs’s refusal to debate will go down as an important factor when Lake’s victory is analyzed, post-election.

And finally, we have Minnesota. Incumbent Governor Tim Walz has gone to great lengths to avoid debating challenger Dr. Scott Jensen. They had one live debate before a Jensen-friendly crowd at FarmFest during the summer. Jensen corralled Walz into one further debate, in Rochester, with the proviso that it couldn’t be broadcast in the Twin Cities. Walz didn’t want anyone to see it.

Finally, KSTP television scheduled debates for all of the constitutional offices: governor, attorney general, auditor and secretary of state. The other debates took place as planned, but Walz refused to show up. So KSTP went ahead with a gubernatorial debate, with Walz represented by an empty podium. The moderators asked Dr. Jensen questions for a half hour, as he had the stage to himself. Talk about a bad look!

What was Walz thinking? I can’t explain it.

So this year, the debates might contribute more toward eventual victory than is usually the case. One thing I think we can say for sure is that, unless the candidate is truly disabled–think Fetterman–he or she ought, at a minimum, to show up.

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