Why Cochran will not answer McDaniel’s calls for debate

The political reality is that Cochran has absolutely nothing to gain from debating McDaniel. The incumbent is leading in polls — public and, from what I hear, internal — and as enough ammunition to fire at McDaniel that there is no reason to step up on a stage with him.

Past that, a debate with McDaniel has to frighten the Cochran campaign just a bit. Given the fervor for new, younger leadership that has been building, the visual contrast between Cochran — the silver-haired statesman — and McDaniel — the young firebrand with impeccable hair — would serve to reinforce one of the challenger’s main campaign themes, that Cochran’s time has past and a new generation is ready to lead.

But concerns over debating McDaniel have to run deeper than aesthetics. McDaniel is a capable orator who is comfortable on stage playing to crowds. McDaniel doesn’t give a lot of specifics about what he’s for — not unusual for a challenger — and has so far only shown a command of a narrow range of issues that serve to further the themes of his insurgent campaign. Nevertheless, those themes — and his patent delivery — would be fairly effective in a debate.

That’s not to say Cochran wouldn’t hold his on. I have little doubt Cochran could run circles around McDaniel in a straightforward policy debate on a wide range of issues. The question, however, is not whether he could win but if he would win. Big difference.

So, no, Cochran has nothing to gain from debating.

That said, it’s a sad statement on our democratic process and the leaders who work within its structure that debates and public forums are not more commonplace. It’s also a sad statement on our electorate that they are not more demanded. With the proliferation of TV and the Internet, messages and “ideas” are spread far faster in 30- and 60-second ads and via Twitter, Facebook and email than on stage, behind two podiums having an open dialogue about issues.

Sam Hall Blog
Clarion Ledger
4/14/14