Was there a single moment when political candidates decided it was safer not to show up to debates?
If so, I missed it, but I suspect the change was more of a gradual shift, part of a trend toward more packaged and predictable campaigns that avoid risking the sort of unscripted flubs — or perhaps revealing moments of unintentional honesty — that can go viral. Strategically, ducking debates makes some sense, particularly for candidates who already own leads they want to protect, people like U.S. Senate candidate John Kennedy.
The final weeks of the Senate race could have featured four separate showdowns between the Republican state treasurer and his runoff opponent, Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, but none came to be. Kennedy declined an invitation to appear jointly before the Press Club of Baton Rouge, and three planned television debates were canceled when Kennedy agreed to attend one, Campbell another and negotiations over the third broke down when Kennedy refused to allow a live audience and Campbell refused to proceed without one.
The losers are those voters who still want to get a better sense of the man they'll soon send to Washington. Granted, that's not all of them, or most, or perhaps even more than a small subsample. Those who want to be more engaged, though, deserve more respect and consideration from the candidates than this sad state of affairs suggests.
That's particularly true this year, after a 24-candidate primary that was hard to follow and overshadowed by a reality show of a presidential race. With just two candidates left and the national contest over, now would have been the perfect time to make up for that.
It would have been a good opportunity for television viewers to hear Campbell and Foster go deeper than they do in those ubiquitous ads, where Kennedy issues pious platitudes about God, guns and the evils of government regulation, and Campbell stresses his support making oil and gas companies pay for coastal land loss, which is a state, not federal, issue. A debate would have been the time for voters to hear Campbell explain just where he agrees with President-elect Donald Trump and where he'd fight his agenda, and for Kennedy to either endorse or reject Trump's more outrageous ideas and comments.
Louisiana voters likely won't get a chance to see the two candidates left in the U.S. Senate…
Not that there's tons of suspense here. Kennedy has given every indication he'd go to Washington and vote the party line, just like other Louisiana Republicans. Campbell would surely follow the lead of previous Louisiana Democrats, sticking mostly with the party but sometimes peeling on off social issues.
But it sure would have been nice if they'd let voters hear their thoughts on these subjects and others firsthand.