I have three things to say about this.
The Democratic primary runoff for governor ramped up Tuesday with a debate over debates between Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, the two candidates still standing from the nine-way primary a week ago.
Within the span of a few hours, White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, called for debates with Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, ahead of the May 22 runoff and Valdez signaled an openness to sparring but with far less urgency. White was the runner-up in the March 6 primary with 27 percent of the vote behind Valdez, who drew 43 percent.
“The party’s nominee for governor – whether it’s Lupe or I – should begin spring training now for the fall campaign against Greg Abbott,” White said in a statement. “A few debates between the two of us before the runoff would make the eventual nominee all the stronger. And who doesn’t love a good debate?”
As part of its response, Valdez’s campaign suggested she was amenable to debating White closer to the runoff date — and took a shot at her rival over the attention-grabbing move.
“We will be glad to work out a debate schedule when the voters become more focused on the race, but this primary won’t be won on 30-second debate responses,” Valdez spokesman Kiefer Odell said in a statement. “While we understand why someone who received such low support in most of Texas’ major urban areas and the Rio Grande Valley needs a debate to create buzz, Sheriff Valdez is focused on developing substantive relationships with voters across the state — just as she has done in Dallas County for the last 13 years.”
After the election last week, The Texas Tribune and two Austin public broadcasting stations, KUT and KLRU, offered to host a debate between Valdez and White in mid-May in Austin. Valdez has not yet agreed to it, while White has.
1. Just as a reminder, some 30% of primary voters picked someone other than Valdez and White on March 6. Some of them surely made a conscious decision to vote for one of the other candidates, but some of them just as surely picked a name more or less at random. Neither Valdez nor White has a whole lot of money right now, and neither campaign has done that much voter outreach yet. Having debates will do a lot to perform outreach to the voters who for whatever reason didn’t pick one of the frontrunners the first time around, and they’re basically free.
2. As I said before, Democrats have the only statewide runoff on the ballot as well as more Congressional runoffs. The Democratic gubernatorial runoff is the highest-profile race on the ballot right now, the only one that can claim to give a reason for everyone to vote. (Well, everyone except those who voted in the Republican primary.) Maybe this is just restating point #1, but Valdez-White debates are the best opportunity we will have to focus attention on our eventual nominee for Governor, and perhaps the only opportunity we will have to do so in a way that isn’t filtered through the default Republican perspective. This is a great gift, and both candidates should embrace it.
3. Beyond the practical concerns elections with candidate debates >>> elections without candidate debates. Yeah, sure, most debates are more about choreography and pre-packaged applause lines and zingers and whatnot. They’re still the best chance to see what a candidate looks like under pressure, and without a squadron of consultants standing by to keep them on message. Why wouldn’t we want this? Campos has more.