Jill Zimon: Ohioans say yes to debates, candidates should too
When a recent report asked a former Ohio governor’s campaign manager about the candidate debates this cycle, he said, “Campaigns respond to the electorate. They are built to win. And if (doing debates) was a big deal, they would just do them.
Well, they’re a big deal. According to a new USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll, voters overwhelmingly say gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates should debate. In fact, 84% of them say the candidates should debate.
We agree with the majority of Ohioans, and the Ohio Debate Commission stands ready to sit down with both sides of every race and help them respond to the electorate.
How did these candidates arrive in mid-September without sitting down to discuss debates among themselves?
First, Ohio’s situation is not unique. Pennsylvania. Georgia. Nebraska. Washington. Debate organizers across the country face the same headwinds with Democratic and Republican candidates.
Perhaps candidates and campaigns are out of practice and taking advantage of the pause the pandemic has given to in-person applications. Still, this survey shows that the public thinks leaders who want to serve them should get in shape and show up for in-person experiences.
Some campaigns say other ways for voters to get information address the need to see candidates together. They often highlight joint appearances at editorial interviews where editorial boards have their own agendas as they determine who to approve. These are worthwhile efforts, but they are not televised debates.
Other critics say the debates don’t offer new information about the candidates, are for entertainment only, and don’t change people’s minds. Yet it is the challenge of answering questions without the protection of completely controlling the message that leads to new information and, according to Dr. John C. Green, director emeritus of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, “especially in races where there is no strong starter, … (debates) can matter
2% or 3 percentage points.
Moreover, research on debates in other countries has shown that they can even reduce political polarization because they introduce people and help them understand opposing positions.
Now, eight in 10 Ohioans said they too know the reality, regardless of campaign rationales: In Ohio, we expect our gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates to debate.
Incumbent gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine actually helped set that expectation. He debated all three times when he ran for the US Senate, including when he had a big lead in 1994 over Joel Hyatt, winning 53-39%, and in 2000 when he debated Ted Celeste and won 60 to 36%. .
And with the governor’s office, only once in Ohio’s last 10 gubernatorial races has there been no general election debate, even when the candidates weren’t close. George Voinovich made debates in his two runs in 1990 and 1994 – in 1994 he had a huge lead over Robert Burch and won by 47 points, the biggest landslide in Ohio history.
Gubernatorial debates also took place in 2002, the year Bob Taft won re-election by nearly 20 points over Democrat Tim Hagan, and in 2006, when Democrat Ted Strickland narrowly defeated Republican Ken Blackwell. by 24 percentage points. In 2018, then-Attorney General DeWine participated in his first Ohio Debate Commission debate against Richard Cordray.
These candidates and campaigns didn’t wait for a poll to tell them the right thing to do and the best way for one candidate to show how they contrast with another. They did what candidates do in strong democracies: show up, stand up and speak together on a debate stage.
This tradition may be under threat, but it is more important than ever: with an open Senate seat that has attracted international attention for its role in the checks and balances in our nation’s capital, the first-ever Ohio’s female gubernatorial candidate and tens of thousands of new registrants in Ohio, people want to see and hear for themselves.
The Ohio Debate Commission has already hosted each of the nominees, and we mirror the entire state, with more than two dozen outlets that have already announced that they will air or cover our programs for these races. We bring millions of Ohioans together by providing live, streamed, and recorded versions of our work at no cost to any outlet that wants the content, not to mention talk shows and programming for high school and college kids. students in conjunction with our debates.
Which candidates would knowingly ignore more than 8 out of 10 voters and risk being removed from office? No one will need to speculate whether the campaigns for Ohio governor and the US Senate are responding to the electorate and engaging in debate. Readers who think there should be debates can write, email or use social media to let the same candidates know they agree with 84% of Ohio’s likely voters and the encourage discussion.
We also keep in touch with the campaigns, and they know how to reach us.
As of Sept. 15, gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley (Democrat) accepted the ODC’s invitation — along with others — to debate incumbent Ohio Governor DeWine (Republican), who has yet to accepted no invitation to debate. Senate candidates Tim Ryan (Democrat) and JD Vance (Republican) did not accept either of the same debate invitations, although Ryan accepted the ODC’s invitation.
Jill Zimon is executive director of the Ohio Debate Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit collaboration of civic, academic, and media organizations that organizes debates for the highest state offices. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.