A funny thing happened on the way to the November elections. Some of the incumbents enjoying huge leads in the polls got cold feet. Maybe worse.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Gov. Ned Lamont refused to participate in long-planned League of Women Voters debates.
“I think it’s cowardly,” says League of Women Voters of Connecticut President Laura Smits. “A live, unscripted one hour debate is like a job interview,” she said. “If you can’t engage in a debate with your opponent, I’m not sure you should be in public office.”
The Connecticut LWV started planning these debates in February, working with CPTV to hold the live events on college campuses to engage younger voters. They set the venues and the dates and invited the candidates for U.S. Congress and statewide office.
“We didn’t negotiate. We set the dates. And we publicized our planned schedule in June. None of the candidates said “no”, they just never said yes. In some cases we couldn’t even track them down for an answer,” said Smits, obviously frustrated that this work was for naught.
The Gubernatorial debate at Fairfield University was supposed to be Thursday (Oct. 27). Instead, Lamont and Stefanowski met, separately for 30 minutes each, for a one hour “conversation” at WFSB-TV with reporter Susan Raff and Hearst columnist Dan Haar. Independent party candidate Ron Hotaling was noticeably absent.
So it’s not that the two Gubernatorial candidates were busy that night and couldn’t make the League of Women voters’ debate. They just didn’t like the format.
It’s one thing to be asked a question by a reporter in a casual setting with little chance of follow-up or pushback. But it’s quite a different thing to be in a debate, facing your opponent(s) who can challenge you immediately after you answer. That’s how voters can really evaluate the candidates.
Senator Blumenthal and his opponent, Leora Levy, will have a debate, Wednesday Nov. 2 at 7 p.m., also on WSFB-TV. Their LWV debate, scheduled for Oct. 25 at Fairfield University, was cancelled after they refused the League’s invitation.
“It’s sad,” says the League President. “This is the first time I can remember that incumbents didn’t want to debate (under League rules). I guess they want to control the format.”
The League did make changes this year, going to cumulative timing in debates to allow candidates to expand on their thoughts and not revert to memorized soundbites. The League also waived any limits on electronic reuse, offering the debate to any media that wanted it. Will any of this make a difference come Nov. 8? The latest polling shows only 5% of voters are undecided in both the races for governor and senator. Everyone else seems to have made up their mind.
What is clear is that the League of Women Voters has been treated in a disrespectful manner and their members are not happy. And whoever is the winner come Nov. 8, aren’t we all, in a way, the losers?