Ducking debates feels undemocratic

Everyone who votes ought to be disappointed that some candidates in Ohio have decided not to participate in debates.

This flies in the face of a new USA Today Ohio/Suffolk University poll which reports that 84% of Buckeyes surveyed want to see the candidates debate.

Ohioans deserve to see a real-time discussion on what candidates stand for and why.

Until just this week, U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance hemmed and hawed about debating U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan before finally agreeing to taking part in debates in Cleveland and Youngstown next month.

It's part of a wider pattern across the country of candidates who are doing more dodging than Ferris Bueller.

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We must suppose no one wants their head handed to them onstage, reminiscent of what happened during the Dan Quayle-Lloyd Bentsen 1988 vice presidential debate: "You're no Jack Kennedy!"

There's always that lingering fear of an unforced error like presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke's in 2016: "Hell, yeah, we're gonna take your guns!"

Up to now, Vance has argued that he didn't think he could get a fair shake from debates organized by the Ohio Debate Commission, an independent organization that works with media across the state, because its executive director, Jill Miller Zimon, donated to Democratic candidates between 2006 and 2018, including Ryan in 2014.

Vance did take part in a spring primary debate hosted by the commission. But in a race too close to call, he probably should be just as worried about the potential blowback from campaigning with congressional candidate J.R. Majewski, who's been accused of stealing valor to burnish his military service.

USA Today/Suffolk University poll:Vance, Ryan contest virtually tied

The road to elective office is strewn with the aspirations of candidates who self-immolated onstage. During a debate with George H.W. Bush in 1988, Michael Dukakis gave a bloodless response to a hypothetical question about his wife being attacked. You could smell the toast burning, as some of his staffers wept backstage.

After John McCain lost his temper with Barack Obama in 2008 and called him "That one," it got turned into a T-shirt.

Obama and the Democrats laughed out loud when Mitt Romney warned in 2012 that Russia was the world's most imminent threat. We now know Mitt was right.

It's said that people who watched the first John F. Kennedy-Richard Nixon presidential debate believed the telegenic Kennedy won over a pale and sweaty Nixon, who was suffering from an infected knee injury.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon wipes his face with a handkerchief during the nationally televised first of four presidential debates with Sen. John F. Kennedy, Democratic nominee, in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. For the first time in US history a debate between presidential candidates is shown on television.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon wipes his face with a handkerchief during the nationally televised first of four presidential debates with Sen. John F. Kennedy, Democratic nominee, in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. For the first time in US history a debate between presidential candidates is shown on television.

But those who listened to the debate on the radio said Nixon won it on substance.

It certainly ushered in the marriage between image and politics.

Few if any modern-day candidates possess the charisma of a JFK, and that's fine; we've had enough celebrity to last a lifetime, and it doesn't change the fact that Ohioans still have a right to hear from those vying for office.

Though the polls indicate that his lead is pretty solid, incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine announced months ago that he wouldn't be debating Democratic candidate and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. We must presume to deny her more publicity.

But DeWine shouldn't be allowed to campaign on cruise control, not when there are unanswered questions about the ongoing FirstEnergy scandal, the gerrymandered map mess, abortion, voter restriction laws and Wild West gun laws.

Debating the issues that will help voters make a decision is not something that should held hostage.

If you can't be bothered to stand up for your own beliefs, why would we ever believe you would stand up for us?

Charita M. Goshay is a Canton Repository staff writer and member of the editorial board. Reach her at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Charita Goshay: Ducking debates feels undemocratic