The debate between Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican challenger Attorney General Patrick Morrisey had just ended when another debate between the two broke out off the air. Manchin challenged Morrisey on why he turned down an earlier newspaper debate. Morrisey countered that he had accepted.
But whatever happened, the debate fell through.
I’m not going to get into that fight, and it’s irrelevant now why a second head-to-head match-up fell through. However, if Thursday night’s one and only debate told us anything, it’s that more debates are needed.
The media and the public should demand it.
Last Thursday’s debate was spirited and informative, although my view is subjective because I was the moderator and wrote the questions. However, the actual debate time was only 48 minutes and the traditional format, which the candidates agreed to and I supported, allowed the candidates too many opportunities to stick with their talking points.
There should be at least three debates in major races between the Primary and General Election.
The first could have been like last Thursday—a chance to get the candidates on the record. Third party candidates could be included in the first debate, which would be two hours long. After that, if polling shows third party candidates have not reached, say, 15 percent support, they would not be included in future debates.
The media could then fact-check the answers from the first debate and hold the candidates more accountable in the second debate with follow-up questions.
“Candidate X, you said in the first debate that you support (insert policy here), but your voting record shows otherwise. Which is it?”
“Candidate X, you said in the first debate that (insert statement here), but that is factually incorrect. Did you purposely mislead or just have your facts wrong?”
It would be much harder in a second debate for candidates to rely on talking points.
The third debate should be just a few days before the election and provide a chance for the candidates to try to close the deal with voters and address issues and allegations that have arisen or that remain unresolved from the previous two debates.
This campaign cycle in West Virginia has had a dearth of debates in the major races—just one for U.S. Senate, a 45-minute forum (not a debate) between the two candidates in the 1st District Congressional race, and none in the 2nd or 3rd District races.
That’s embarrassing and a disservice to the public. Voters are increasingly turned off by cutthroat negative ads and, I believe, desperate for the kind of content that can come from head-to-head meetings. The first promise we should extract from any political candidate is to have more debates.