Debating Debates

I feel like I have to start a lot of posts with “back in 2006…” so here goes another one…

Back in 2006, Ned Lamont challenged Senator Joe Lieberman in that year’s senate election. Ned got 33% of the delegates at the state convention, and was able to force a primary. At the time, Joe Lieberman rarely made public appearances where voters could come out and ask him questions. In fact, Joe’s unwillingness to spend meaningful time in Connecticut (except at diners) was just one more on a long list of reasons why Connecticut voters (Democrats especially) were fed up with him.

So when Ned made this statement to CT Bob‘s camera on June 10, 2006…

voters hadn’t had a chance to see Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman side by side anywhere. The one chance where they would have was at an NAACP candidates forum at CCSU on May 11, 2006. Lieberman flaked out, and sent his campaign manager Sean Smith instead.

Ned Lamont challenged Joe Lieberman to debate for two reasons:

  1. He was the underdog. It’s what underdogs do when they’re challenging someone whose race it is to lose. (See also: Alpert, Merrick)
  2. Lieberman and Lamont had yet to both appear before the same crowd of voters. One thing I remember from the summer of ’06 was that the more people saw of Ned, the more they liked Ned, and the more they saw of Joe, the less they liked Joe. It would be in Ned’s best interest to appear next to Joe at any debate or forum he could.

But that was 2006. And I feel that I had to go through all that to show the context in which Ned issued his debate challenge to Joe in the above video, because it was used by the Malloy campaign today in an attempt to get some more mileage out of last week’s press release:

Dan Malloy, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate for Governor, today invited fellow Democrat and gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont to a series of public debates on the major issues facing Connecticut. Malloy asked that Lamont join him in debates that would be sponsored by local media outlets in every community across Connecticut that’s home to a daily newspaper; most of these communities also have local radio stations.
Malloy said he planned to call Lamont this afternoon, and to invite him to work cooperatively to put this series of debates together.

Here are two serious (and one smart-ass*) reasons why I think Dan is inviting Ned Lamont to debate:

  1. He is the underdog. It’s what underdogs do when they’re challenging someone whose race it is to lose. (See above.)
  2. He likes Ned’s company. After all, they’ve already been to about 20 forums/debates/whatever together so far this year. *This is the smart-ass reason.
  3. He wants the publicity. This is probably the real reason, and even though it kind of folds in with being an underdog, I think it’s worth noting separately.

It’s pretty clear that this is about getting the Malloy campaign some free press. If he were serious about these debates, he would have at least mentioned them to the Lamont campaign before issuing a press release. The line about Dan planning to call Ned later to “invite him to work cooperatively to put this series of debates together” reveals that this isn’t really about informing voters about anything — it’s about getting some free publicity. Hence why Malloy’s proposal would be to have debates in the 17 towns with local media outlets.

Since the Lamont campaign hasn’t gotten back to the Malloy campaign yet about the debates, Malloy issued a new press release today with a link to CT Bob’s video of Ned calling for “old-fashioned kitchen table debates” with Joe Lieberman. The Malloy campaign wants you to think that Dan is doing in 2010 what Ned did in 2006, but it just doesn’t add up. The Malloy campaign doesn’t want kitchen table debates — they want media coverage. That’s why they issued a press release about it instead of giving a 30-second statement to a blogger at the Greek Festival.

The one parallel between 2006 and 2010 that does seem to hold is that where Ned Lamont goes, news cameras follow. In 2010, it’s because he’s the front runner, and in 2006 it was because he was challenging an entrenched incumbent–and gaining ground on him. The traditional media would have to be really stupid to miss that story. And they were really stupid (or had tunnel vision), because they failed to cover the Governor’s race.

To illustrate the frustrating lack of coverage of the 2006 gubernatorial campaigns, here’s a clip of Dan Malloy from a CCSU forum back in July ’06:

As someone who went to a lot of political forums/events in 2006, I can back Malloy up on this one. As soon as Ned finished speaking, the news cameras would follow him out of the room to ask him about the latest poll or get his response to something crazy or stupid that Lieberman said that day. It must have been maddening for both Dan Malloy and John DeStefano.

But that’s no reason to have 17 debates in the next 10 to 11 weeks. I think there should be debates, but I think 17 is overkill. The Malloy campaign needs these debates because it’s the best/most cost effective way for them to reach a ton of voters. On the other hand, Ned Lamont doesn’t need to share a stage with anybody in order to get his message out, although I am sure that he will debate Dan at some point before the primary. The bottom line is that the Malloy campaign’s call for 17 debates is not about touring the state to inform voters, it’s about getting Dan Malloy some free press. There’s no harm in trying, I guess, but no one should expect that Ned Lamont has any obligation to help the Malloy campaign get their message out.

By the way, although the Malloy campaign used CT Bob’s video in a press release, Bob had nothing to do with it.

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