Probably only in Minnesota, home of the late, great Senator Paul Wellstone, could you find a story of an inexperienced candidate relying on money and ads rather than using debates to get his message and face out via free media coverage:
Minnesota Democrats have a real problem in their 2nd District: The party endorsed a candidate with no experience who is scared to debate before the primary. He dodged debate offers before the convention and it worked; delegates bought his slick, managed appearances as a sign he had substance. But if he’s scared to confront a fellow Democrat before the primary what tool will he use to get the media and the voters to take him seriously?
While interviewing former state Representative Shelley Madore, cable TV host Alan Miller of “Access to Democracy” offered to moderate a debate between the two Democratic candidates in the upcoming Democratic Primary on August 10th - Madore and her opponent Dan Powers. Excerpts from the show will be available online in the next few days.
Powers had dodged debate offers from the former state legislator prior to the early April convention, so it comes as little suprise that his campaign manager, Mary Breitenstein, has opted to decline on his behalf. Her statement Thursday side-stepping the issue concluded with:
“Dan will be focusing his time on beating John Kline and bringing the people of CD 2 [Minnesota's Second Congressional District] the sort of representation they deserve.”
Whichever Democrat wins the primary and goes on to challenge incumbent Kline will want to draw contrasts between themselves and a well-known incumbent. Logically it might seem an excellent opportunity to practice a skill Powers hasn’t exercised, and create a little more buzz for the party, much the way the Obama-Clinton contest helped keep Democrats in the spotlight well after it became a foregone conclusion that McCain would garner the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.
So much for “practice makes perfect.”
Evidently Powers fears debating a fellow Democrat could outweigh the media exposure he’d get going into the primary. The only conclusion voters and pundits can draw is he worries that revealing how he handles himself in front of the media would convey significant advantage to Shelley Madore.
In this case, I agree with his fear despite her much greater name recognition; having spent time with both candidates I’m hard-pressed to see how he could possibly outshine Madore. I’ve donated time and money to both campaigns, and I know it’s much safer for Powers to rely on talking points and spend money on slick ads than it would be to engage in a debate.
A debate would obviously reveal how relatively difficult it is for a rookie to talk issues, policy, and procedure on the same stage with a former legislator.
Still, I’d like the chance to see Powers fielding questions in an unscripted appearance, and see if he can think on his feet. As a voter in the District and the former elected party official I can’t help but wonder if he’s scared Shelley Madore might reveal something about him that Congressman Kline wouldn’t. She’s been taking the high road so far, and if there’s one thing Minnesotans have learned about Kline’s campaign style it’s that he will research his opponents thoroughly, and attack relentlessly.
Thomas Hayes is an entrepreneur, journalist, political strategist, and photographer who contributes regularly to a host of web sites on topics ranging from economics and politics to culture and community. It is a matter of public record that he has donated to both candidates featured in this story, and recently accepted a staff position on the Madore For Congress campaign.
© All photographs in this story are copyright Thomas Hayes, 2010