Goal for debates should be to get close to voters

05/21/2014 5:20 PM

05/21/2014 5:21 PM

It’s more than five months until we elect the next Texas governor, and we’ve known who the major candidates are for more than two months.

Surely, with all that time available, we can figure out how Texans can really get to know Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis — beyond carefully crafted campaign literature, slick television ads and scripted campaign appearances.

With varying degrees of success, open debates have helped voters do that in past elections. But for the political strategies that get in the way, debates could be even more helpful.

Abbott and Davis are arguing about possible debates leading up to the Nov. 4 election. The argument is predictable, with front-runner Abbott protecting himself from too much exposure (something could go wrong) and Davis wanting all the exposure she can get (she has less to lose) in her attempt to come from behind.

Abbott has accepted invitations to two debates: Sept. 19 in McAllen and Oct. 3 in Dallas. Both are on Friday nights, meaning they’ll compete with high school football games for voter attention. Both have television stations as sponsors, so the candidates will probably appear only in studios.

Davis is pushing for six debates between July and October, with the first in the Rio Grande Valley and the others in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and Lubbock.

She proposes that at least two be issue-specific, one on education and one on economic opportunity.

She suggests at least two in a 90-minute town hall format, open to social media engagement; one at a community college on a weekend; and one simulcast in both English and Spanish.

For getting as close to voters as possible, the Davis plan is far better.

It probably won’t all happen. Still, there’s a lot of room between six debates and two, stretched out over four months or separated by only two weeks, in a variety of formats or limited in scope.

Every Texan deserves to see the people who would be governor and compare them up close. We should get as close to that goal as we can.

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