It’s one of the many annoying elements of political campaigns these days — the debate over debates.
Incumbents want to avoid them as much as possible so they don’t have to defend their record against attacks. Challengers want the free exposure that multiple debates can give their campaigns.
So here we are with the governor’s race.
For the past few weeks, Republican candidate Lee Zeldin, with the help of some clever New York Post headlines, has been chiding Gov. Kathy Hochul for ducking his invitation for a series of regional debates. Hochul, very much in the incumbent’s bunker, has been dodging his requests.
Finally, on Thursday, she agreed to a single one-hour debate hosted by Spectrum News/NY1 on Oct. 25. That’s two weeks before Election Day and just four days before the start of early voting – a time when many voters will have already voted.
Predictably, Zeldin rejected the offer as too little too late.
Bottom line: He’s right; she’s wrong.
First, Hochul has only been in office 13 months. She wasn’t elected governor, so she didn’t campaign for the job or earn a single vote. (Lieutenant governor doesn’t count.)
She needs to present herself to voters in a forum in which she’s forced to answer tough questions about her record — without the protection of her own TV commercials or press conferences where she controls who asks the questions.
She’ll have to answer those dreaded questions about the state’s covid response, the bail reform law, her acceptance of campaign donations from developers, the Buffalo Bills stadium taxpayer fleecing, her rush to pass restrictive gun control measures, abortion and other issues that might wipe the sheen off her resume. But if she can’t defend her record against tough questions, then she’s got no business being governor.
But debates don’t always hurt the incumbent. Hochul will have an opportunity to challenge the congressman’s record as well.
He’s very vulnerable for his unwavering support of former President Donald Trump and his vote not to certify the 2020 presidential election in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
He’ll also have to answer Hochul’s questions about his conservative positions on abortion and gun control and explain how as a Republican he’ll be able to govern the state with a Legislature dominated by Democrats.
So enough with the games.
Hochul and Zeldin should agree to debate on TV at least three times in the next seven weeks.
And not for just an hour. More like two or three hours each. An hour barely gives candidates time to clear their throats, and certainly not enough time to give thoughtful answers on the state’s many complex issues.
And there are enough groups and news organizations that can pull together a debate, moderator and questions in very short order.
The governor should be eager to debate her record and positions with her opponent.
The fact that she’s not sends its own message.
She owes voters more debates.