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Not a Debate

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April 7, 2022

Omaha Chamber of Commerce and KETV hosted three Nebraska Republican Gubernatorial candidates for what was originally billed as a debate by the Chamber. KETV correctly identified it as a forum.

The concept behind a debate is to have set times, questions under pressure, and the ability to respond to other debaters. A debate is an active engagement with opponents, rather than recitation in front of opponents. Strong debaters showcase quick-thinking skills, while those who process information slower and more in-depth may struggle. In a debate the goal is to win. Participants listen to opponents in order to point out the flaws in their arguments. It is verbal fencing designed to showcase a candidates’ strengths and flaws, illustrating how they differentiate.

A forum is merely a pale imitation of debate. Each candidate has a set amount of time (90 seconds) to answer questions, but there is no rebuttal. The back and forth efforts to prove a point are nonexistent. How does an individual respond under pressure? A debate answers that question. What does a candidates’ body language say while being confronted with uncomfortable questions? A debate answers that question.

A forum lacks a candidates’ particular flow and style while challenging, prodding and probing an opponent. The robotic regurgitation of finely tuned political platitudes does not serve the public. Forums merely showcase what each candidate wants the world to know about themselves. As such, the information they provide may or may not be accurate – without a rebuttal drawing attention to it, facts may become fuzzy. A forum serves the purpose of allowing voters to assess the participating candidates side-by-side as they answer each question. In a single-party forum – many of the responses are similar.

The three candidates participating in the forum did a decent job yesterday. Most of the questions and answers didn’t lend any surprises; they’ve been asked and answered at any one of the multitudes of forums already held.

The criteria for participation included polling data, minimum level of contributions and viability as a candidate. Theresa Thibodeau, Brett Lindstrom and Charles Herbster participated. Given the criteria established, Jim Pillen would have been able to participate but was not in attendance. Pillen has called debates “political theater” and “a chance for the mainstream media to pit candidates against each other and hijack the agenda from Republican voters.” He shows no sign of being willing to participate in any forum or debate. His weak strategy disrespects Nebraskans and flies in the face of democratic traditions.  

In Nebraska it is generally assumed the Republican primary winner will be the next Governor. Currently, the only Democrats running for the position are Sen. Carol Blood and Roy Harris. Neither has raised significant levels of money to mount an aggressive campaign against the eventual Republican primary winner.

Perhaps the reason debates are not held in the primaries is to protect candidates from direct attacks and counter-attacks. Rather than inflict damage on each other, they are saving their ammunition for their general election opponent. The nastier the primary, the more fodder the other Party has to use against the primary winner.

A true debate provides much more than mere responses to questions. Debates showcase temperament and how a candidate responds under pressure in a direct conflict. Voters get a more well-rounded view of each candidate, with a glimpse into how they will handle themselves in the real world of governing.

As of now, we only have rehearsed and researched responses with little differentiation to guide voters. The Primary is May 10th. Do you know enough to make a choice? -30-

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