We’re not surprised, but we’re still deeply disappointed the major-party candidates in Maine’s gubernatorial race largely are shying away from debates with their rivals as a matter of strategy.
At this point, it appears that four debates among the three candidates vying for victory in November are on the schedule. But those debates are all slated for October, long after voters will have started to cast absentee ballots.
Voters deserve to hear early and often from the three men who seek to lead the state through the next four years. Debates featuring all three offer voters the best chance to compare their options, hear the candidates respond to a wide range of questions without exclusively relying on prepared talking points, and react to on-the-spot pressure and surprises.
It’s troubling the campaigns of Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud don’t appear to view debates as a critical component of the entire campaign season.
Predictably, LePage has declined a number of debate invitations. That behavior is consistent with the way the Republican ran his campaign in 2010, and it’s largely consistent with his behavior in office over the past three-and-a-half years, in which he has granted a limited number of interviews with reporters, declined to present his own state budget proposal and barred officials in his administration for a time from appearing in person before legislative committees.
What’s more, Michaud has decided to take LePage’s lead in deciding which debates to attend and which to skip.
“Gov. LePage is who we’re running against in this race,” Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt told Maine Public Broadcasting Network. “It really makes no sense for us to debate unless he’s on stage with us.”
That’s because a debate without LePage would put Michaud on stage next to independent Eliot Cutler — who, basically has called for as many debates as possible, including his challenge for a debate in each of Maine’s 16 counties. The Michaud campaign strategy relies in large part on painting Cutler as a candidate who does not have a shot at winning.
But in our estimation, Michaud has every reason to make his case to voters in a debate with Cutler, even if LePage doesn’t participate.
A June poll sponsored by the Portland Press Herald found Michaud with a slight lead over LePage — though it was within the margin of error — with Cutler trailing. But 48 percent of voters said they are not “definitely decided” which candidate would receive their vote in November. That’s nearly half the electorate, and, by and large, it includes those in the electorate who ultimately will vote for the candidate in the strongest position to defeat LePage.
That means Michaud’s challenge is to show voters he is the superior alternative to Cutler. Michaud stands a much better chance of picking off Cutler voters than he does of picking off LePage supporters. If Michaud managed to compel all of Cutler’s supporters to vote for him, that would spell major trouble for LePage’s re-election chances.
If Michaud thinks he is the superior alternative to Cutler, we would like to see him demonstrate that to Maine voters. And there’s no better forum for such a demonstration than a debate.