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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Debating the need for public debate

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The last thing Gov. Bob Holden wants in this upcoming Democratic gubernatorial primary election is to debate his feisty opponent Claire McCaskill. That is painfully obvious given the excuses Holden's camp is using to delay any public debate. In the end however, Holden and McCaskill will indeed debate publicly. We suspect when that occurs, voters will more fully understand Holden's reluctance.

By any measure, Gov. Holden is less than charismatic. That's not to negatively define his term as governor. But public perception goes a long way in the political arena and Holden's handlers know that McCaskill is a skilled politician who can hold her own against the incumbent Governor. And were I one of his handlers, I would offer the same advice - stall any public debates, limit them to as friendly an audience as possible, don't share the public spotlight until the absolute last minute. That clearly is the advice given to the Governor.

But Holden must eventually face the music. He'll have to debate McCaskill and should he win renomination from his party in August, he'll have to face Matt Blunt in a public debate before November. It may be in the debates that the outcome of the November election is decided.

I put limited importance on public debates. But voters in general - especially in national politics - put great emphasis and importance on debates. It's usually in the best interest of the challenger to schedule as many debates as possible. It is equally in the best interest of the incumbent to limit debates as much as possible.

Holden first said he could not commit to a debate with McCaskill until the Legislative session was through. Well, it's been over a month and Holden has yet to formally commit to a debate. This week he was given a deadline by a Kansas City group that gives him three weeks to commit or the stage will be turned over to McCaskill alone. I seriously doubt that Holden will allow that to happen.

It appears likely that Holden and McCaskill will debate in St. Louis and Kansas City. Unfortunately that says much about the state of politics in Missouri. Rural voters will be forced to watch the debate on an urban television station if it's available outstate. That shows how statewide politicians feel about urban voters and rural voters. And it's unfortunate.

Holden has already missed a chance to face McCaskill before newspapers in the state. But time is running out and the Governor knows it. The day of reckoning will come soon and the outcome may well decide who serves as governor in Missouri. We'll be watching if only from a distance.

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