With less than two months to go until the 2022 election, most races already have all the major events lined up. For many of the bigger and closer races, things like rallies with well-known lawmakers and celebrities can be key. But the biggest event, the one where the opponents square off against each other, is the crown jewel for many. Debates can make or break candidates and provide a forum to really show what kind of person they will be while in office. Plus they offer potential huge jumps in polls.
Despite most races debating this year, there remains a glaring exception: The gubernatorial race. Even a cursory search online finds not even a mention of it, with Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) continuing to ask for a debate as recent as a few weeks ago.
“My biggest challenge obviously is to get known in California,” said Dahle last month. “That’s a positive for me. The challenge for me is to get that message out. We’d love to have a debate with the governor.”
However, despite it being such an important race for California, many have questioned if it was even needed this year. Polls show Governor Gavin Newsom currently leading Dahle by more than a 2-to-1 advantage, 52% to 25%. The same poll found that 58% of all voters simply had no idea who Dahle even was. With Dahle down by so much, then why bother?
The need for a Dahle-Newsom debate
Many political experts, however, reason that a debate is needed due to many factors.
“First of all, it would allow Californians to hear perspectives they don’t usually hear,” explained Justine Rollins, a political advisor and debate organizer, to the Globe on Monday. “With the internet, a lot of people stay in their political echo chamber and just go with the party or whoever the incumbent is. Debates allow candidates to freely express their ideas and what they would do without any added commentary minus a rebuttal or two.”
“Second, it would give political accountability. Candidates say and promise a lot of things during debates. This would effectively make them be accountable in the future, especially when campaign slogans are invoked. And another big reason is that they can melt partisan lines. California has a huge Democratic bloc of voters. Huge. And we have seen in previous debates that this melted somewhat after a debate. That age old saying that debates don’t matter because by the time they happen most people have made up their minds? That is by no means a fact. Debates can change the outcome a bit. In 1992 for example. A third party candidate, Ross Perot, was added to the presidential debates, and he always got a big boost after them.”
During the last non-recall Governor’s race in 2018, a Newsom-Cox debate in October proved to give Republican candidate John Cox a bit of a jump in polls against Newsom.. In previous weeks, polls showed Cox in the high 30’s by percentage. After the debate, Cox went into the 40’s for a few weeks until further campaign issues moved him back down just before the election.
“Dahle is so far behind right now that many are discounting him,” added Rollins. “But he is the only other candidate and he deserves to be heard and go against Newsom. It would also be beneficial to Newsom. The guy loves sound bites, but often has difficulties working in the right ones during press conferences or speeches. In a debate, it would give him that stature. And if he really is running for president in a few years, giving some humility and, you know, proving that you support democracy through things like debates would give him further traction for that. Because he could be asked why he didn’t want to be in a debate a few years ago during the Governor’s race, and he may not have the best response to that.”
As of Monday, there are currently no plans for a 2022 Gubernatorial debate in California.
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