Why are Wisconsin’s candidates so unwilling to debate?

Here’s something I’ve been wondering about the 2010 statewide races here in Wisconsin:

Why is it that with the exception of the Republican gubernatorial race, in which Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have actually gotten together to debate the issues, none of the other major contested races (Democratic gubernatorial primary, Republican U.S. Senate primary) have seen a debate between the various candidates?

In the Democratic gubernatorial race, businessman Tim John has issued numerous debate challenges to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, with those challenges presumably falling on deaf ears, while in the Republican U.S. Senate race, Ron “Sunspots” Johnson has turned down, cancelled, or not responded to at least nine invitations to debate his opponent, Watertown small businessman Dave Westlake.

While I understand that Tim John and Dave Westlake aren’t viewed as “top tier” candidates – and thus aren’t taken as seriously as Tom Barrett and Ron Johnson – Wisconsin’s voters should still have the opportunity to compare and contrast what all the candidates in a given race have to say about the issues voters are most concerned about this year. It’s a shame these candidates are instead ignoring their opponents and denying Wisconsin’s voters a chance to see the candidates engage in precisely the kind of political debate that is the very backbone of our democracy.

Westlake’s campaign has also issued a press release about this, calling Johnson’s refusal to debate or to attend vetting sessions as “demonstrating a regrettable willingness to shortchange voters—and that’s just plain dangerous for Wisconsin.”


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35 thoughts on “Why are Wisconsin’s candidates so unwilling to debate?

  1. For the record, all four Democratic candidates for Lt. Governor have debated twice. Well, not debated exactly, but appeared together at candidate forums where their views could be compared. The second one, hosted by MAGNET in Madison, also invited the Republican and Libertarian candidates. But only one Repub, Dave Ross from Superior, bothered to show up. Brett Davis and Rebecca Kleefish were no-shows.

  2. And let’s pile on and call the media to task, particularly the Milwaukee media who are totally ignoring the ‘second tier’ candidates as well. Paul Morel got passing mention in the pre-primary review of the 4th CD candidates. Tim John gets a dismissive mention by a MJS columnist who apparently was peeved that a candidate wanted to talk to a journalist. Dave Westlake if he gets mentioned it is simply in passing…although Ron Johnson has gotten plenty of ink this past week. Todd Kolosso? Who if we paid attention to only the media is unknown to the world.

    Yes I know freedom of the press means the media isn’t required to print anything but what they consider newsworthy. But I think there’s a flip side of the coin that an informed voter base requires the media to expose and explain the positions of all of the candidates in any given race. And at some point it is the civic responsibility to provide the information the public needs to make that informed decision in the voting booth. It’s good public policy, it’s being a good civic neighbor, it may even have some economic benefit…

  3. Westlake and Johnson DID have a formal debate; I think in July? Have they been asked to debate again by Channel 12 as Walker/Neumann were? If not, it is only a couple of TEA parties DEMANDING that they debate. There was some sort of petition circling around with approx 70 signatures on it. This negative attack stuff is all Westlake has now and it is coming off as pretty pathetic…

    1. Huh, the “formal debate” you mentioned was actually a candidate forum in Brookfield, and since then Ron Johnson has turned down nine invitations to participate in debates/candidate forums.

      Further, not all the debates were “tea parties” demanding the two candidates debate; in fact, Johnson turned down a debate proposed by Wisconsin Public Television and he cancelled another that had been organized by the Ripon College Republicans.

      Why is it that Ron Johnson won’t agree to a debate? What does he have to lose? What does he have to hide?

      1. I can’t answer the question of why Ron turned down those debates, but do we have to turn it into something nefarious with “what does he have to hide?”. Sheesh. I am quite the skeptic and unless someone has absolute proof I find it hard to believe he turned down NINE requests.

        1. I never said it was nefarious; I simply think that if he’s up to the challenge of serving as Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator in our nation’s highest deliberative body, then he should be able to handle himself in a debate against Dave Westlake. The fact is, Ron Johnson seems to want to be able to win this election without actually having to do more than run TV ads and appear at tightly controlled campaign events.

          1. Candidates with a large lead in any race (primary or general) will always avoid debates. It’s the nature of the business – those with nothing to gain and everything to lose always will.

  4. Westlake and Johnson did NOT have a debate, they appeared side by side at a forum.

    Johnson is avoiding the media as well as anyone that will ask tough questions. His meet and greets are all CLOSED to the public, you have to be on a list to get into them. It took the Journal Sentinel 3 months to get him to show up for an interview with the editorial review board. I’ve spoken with many reporters who have told me he refuses interviews if the questions aren’t given ahead of time.

    Johnson is unprepared and frankly, not very intelligent. He’s the last person that should be making decisions for us in the Senate.

    1. Why is it that Westlake supporters are on the attack of Johnson? And with half truths and out and out lies? I don’t see Johnson people going after Westlake as such. Ron’s meet and greets are just that. An open forum for anyone to walk in and say hello. You know MANY reporters? Really? 3 months to get in front of the editorial board of a lib newspaper. Johnson just announced that he was running barely three months ago!

      1. And what do you consider half truths and lies?
        Using exact quotes from Ron Johnson against him?

        And Johnson repeatedly cancelled on the Journal Sentinel, it’s not like he couldn’t fit it into his schedule.

        All you’re doing is making excuses for what a poor candidate he is.

        1. He may be rich, but you’re absolutely right that he’s a poor candidate.

          I suppose that’s what voters get when the party insiders hand-pick the candidate they want to represent them.

        2. He is not a poor candidate at all. Don’t just take my word for it. Ask one of the many others that have had one on ones with him. Ron’s business experience soars over Westlake’s for one thing.

          Zach, I think the only reason you care is because you know darn well that Feingold would eat Westlake for lunch. Of course you want Dave to win!!! I don’t blame you one bit.

          I certainly hope that ALL of the conservatives posting on here will vote in the general after RoJo takes it. They seem to be losing sight of the goal to beat Feingold. Actually it only seems like a couple are die-hard Westlake followers. I say followers, because they act more cult-like and attack anyone that does not follow their principles. Sheesh again. Nothing like some good conservative on conservative assaults.

          1. I care because if I have to suffer a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, I want to know that he will do what he thinks is right and best for the nation and the state. Although I don’t agree with him on very much, Dave Westlake seems like that kind of guy. Ron Johnson seems like a party machine hack.

            1. That’s crap Ed. Ron is just as decent of a guy as Westlake. I guess you will have to trust me on this one. I have met them both and I am being sincere here. He is no hack. He decided to do something about his country. If I were in his shoes, maybe I would have taken the same chance. People step out there and take a chance and then get ripped to shreds. It takes a certain kind of person knowing this to walk into all of it…

              1. Well if I get the impression that he is a party hack, I doubt I am the only one feeling that way…maybe a little bit more openness with the media might dispel that impression.

            2. I want to know that he will do what he thinks is right and best for the nation and the state. Although I don’t agree with him on very much, Dave Westlake seems like that kind of guy. Ron Johnson seems like a party machine hack.

              See, that’s just the point I think you’re missing, and you find comfort in the party hack thing. I certainly have concerns about Johnson – part of it is the inexperience thing. But I’m willing to grant any candidate a fair amount of leeway on that – fact is our “experienced” politicians from both sides of the aisle who’ve lived the bulk of their working lives as elected politicians have done a very poor job with things. Of course the other concern is that on some issues, it’s not clear whether he’s really spent a lot of time thinking about them. To some extent, this is a polish thing – it’s as much a matter of not being well rehearsed & condensing everything into soundbites. But by the same means, being engaged should mean that you know exactly where you stand on issues.

              Anyway, despite some concerns, I think the situation makes for a pretty strong argument that Johnson is in it for the right reasons. When he’s talked about being motivated to get involved, to stand up for what he believes in, I believe he’s being sincere. I think that if he didn’t truly want to contribute – to serve and do what he thinks is right, there’s no way he’d be willing to give up a big chunk of money, not to mention the wringer his personal life gets sent through since 80% of campaigning is mudslinging & character assassination.

          2. I’m not worried about Sen. Feingold’s chances against Ron Johnson, because Sen. Feingold’s undefeated against rich guys who think they can simply buy an election if they spend enough of their own money.

            What’s more, Sen. Feingold would eat Ron Johnson’s lunch in a formal debate.

            1. That’s it. Maybe they should have a lunch debate. Whoever eats the others fastest…wins! Sorry Zach, sometimes we have to throw a little humor into this.

      2. If Ron Johnson really wants an “open forum,” why won’t he agree to sit side by side with Dave Westlake and engage in a debate?

        1. Again, isn’t this a matter for the Republican party to worry about? I’m sure the eventual nominee will want to do more debating that Russ Feingold would prefer.

          1. Isn’t this an issue for the party to worry about? Apparently the party is holding the reins and telling Mr. Johnson to avoid debating Mr. Westlake. Actually it’s sound strategy since Mr. Westlake has been marginalized by the party and the media. It just gives Mr. Westlake more exposure.

            BUT as a voter I would prefer to see them debate…which is more important? the needs of the party or the needs of the electorate?

            If Mr. Johnson wins, I don’t expect we’ll see a lot of debates until his poll numbers start to sag.

            1. As a voter do you plan on voting for either of them anyway? I’m not sure how a debate would change your mind. I guess that was point when I said “republican party,” I meant those who would vote in a GOP Primary.

      3. Why are Westlake supporters going after poor Mr. Johnson? MAYBE BECAUSE THEY’D LIKE TO WIN THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY…while poor Mr. Johnson wants to run against Senator Feingold and isolates Mr. Westlake by ignoring him. Mr. Westlake would cream Mr. Johnson in a real debate and the Johnson campaign junta knows that.

        1. Hahahaha!!! Westlake is too dramatic on camera. Cream him how? With his drama? That is hilarious! Westlake is no policy wonk. Dave has had over a year to get his talking points down is all! This is so laughable. Guys, come on.

          1. Mr. Westlake isn’t a policy wonk but he did work out his positions before he entered the campaign…Mr. Johnson didn’t even make that much effort, he just opened his check book and asked how much.

            1. Not true about Westlake or Johnson but believe what you want. I have seen Westlake evolve over time. Thing is, not many were paying attention to Dave back then. He did not start out with much at all. Many of his speeches were laughed at up until earlier this year as well.

    2. I don’t think you or anyone who doesn’t actually know him have any business making the claim that he’s not intelligent. Clearly he’s very inexperienced in the realm of got’cha politics & campaigning and as such, he’s been extremely cautious. Criticize his lack of experience – argue he won’t serve Wisconsin well. Though the fact of the matter is campaigning and governing are separate skilsets and unfortunately regard being able to slickly tell us a lie we like as more important that a truth we don’t.

      I’ve said it before – despite disagreeing with him on a majority of issues, I’ve always respected Feingold. That said, when our local media asks him a difficult question, it will be the first time. Johnson’s clearly not going to get that leeway and knows it.

      1. Ok i will agree that its hard to make the claim that he isnt intelligent, but you can make the claim that he has no idea about the issues. He has seriously messed up his answers on gun control, free trade, manufacturing, communist china, government subsidies, global climate change, the founding of his company, etc…

        I would also say someone who was motivated to run by dick morris is not in it for the right reasons.

  5. As if Feingold wouldn’t destroy Johnson in the primary…please. You can’t run a millionaire who isnt sure where he stands on issues and who is just doing what his consultants tell him to against a Senator who people genuinely like because he is an “everyday” guy with personality. Johnson clearly fulfilled the RPW’s template that has failed time and time again.

    1. Russ had the luxury of being the “everyday” guy, until he is seriously challenged and then he gets a bit prickly. You might think he’s everyday people, but what’s he doing in the interests of Wisconsinites? There are lots of candidates I find likeable, but it doesn’t mean I’m voting for them!

    2. You have no idea what you are talking about. This year is different because the GOP is on fire. More voters will turn out in Nov and throw Feingold out!

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