The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

Democrats, please debate: Democratic primary candidates should debate on TV

For an electorate that sometimes insulates itself from the minutiae of political campaigns, televised debates are often the only opportunity to see the candidates perform without the buffer of their political machines.

Therefore, the voters of North Carolina deserve a statewide televised debate between the three Democratic candidates seeking nomination for the Senate seat before the upcoming Democratic primary.

It is unacceptable that no formal debates have been scheduled so far. And the precedent set by the 2008 primary campaign ­— in which U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and other contenders participated in only one televised debate on UNC-Greensboro’s campus television station — should not continue.

Last week, Democratic candidate Kenneth Lewis challenged his Democratic opponents, N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former N.C. Sen. Cal Cunningham, to a one-hour debate about jobs. Cunningham accepted; Marshall declined.

“The fact that one or more candidates are not participating speaks for itself,” said Lewis’s campaign manager, Bruce Clark. “We’re serious. We’re ready to debate.”

While debates can be risky, especially for frontrunners, they are a vital component to our modern electoral process. Debates give the candidates the opportunity to directly question one another. They also provide voters with the clearest opportunity to compare the candidates and understand their differences.

A.J. Carrillo, Marshall’s campaign manager, defended his candidate’s decision to decline the debate challenge. He pointed to several upcoming forums, saying the candidates will have ample opportunity to debate each other at events that have been planned for weeks.

But the forums that Marshall’s campaign point to as opportunities for debate are not actually formal debates at all. In fact, according to Kerra Bolton, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Democratic Party, the forums are merely meet-and-greets in which each candidate will speak for a few minutes. There will be no questioning or back-and-forth between the contenders. These forums are hardly a substitute for a live debate.

Lewis’s challenge is clear: debate. Marshall’s excuse for not accepting Lewis’ invitation to formally debate about jobs is unacceptable.

In a contest in which each candidate polls almost equally when matched against incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr — and no incumbent has won that seat since 1968 — the Democratic candidates must debate.

There should be a televised exchange between the contenders, and all of the candidates should step up to the challenge.

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