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Discourse, debate needed to inform voters

Ohioans overwhelmingly want candidates for the state’s top political posts to face off in one-on-one debates.

I’m one of them.

A recent USA TODAY Network Ohio / Suffolk University poll determined about 84 percent of likely Ohio voters said candidates for Ohio governor and U.S. Senate should debate one other. Only 10 percent said these candidates should not debate, according to the new poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. And the strong support for debates spanned across age, gender and political party.

I’m disappointed that Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has all but said he won’t debate Democratic challenger Nan Whaley, a former Dayton mayor.

Still, I’m very pleased to see that U.S. Senate candidates Tim Ryan, a Howland Democrat, and J.D. Vance, a Cincinnati-area Republican, finally have agreed to debate at least twice, including one right here in our Valley, hosted by WJFM-TV 21 on Oct. 17.

Another U.S. Senate debate is set for Oct. 10 in Cleveland.

Good.

Now, I’m just hoping the candidates will remain respectful, keeping in mind that the exchanges offer an opportunity for voters to hear about their positions on substantive issues. Mostly, I hope the debates don’t devolve into unproductive arguing, accusations or other bad behavior in attempts to make the opponent look bad.

In my opinion, each candidate has an opportunity to do that simply by being more prepared, answering questions more intelligently or concisely and by speaking from the heart about what each really believes and what each really intends to attempt to do, if elected. I also hope they don’t waste the viewers’ time by simply spewing typical liberal or conservative talking points of their respective parties.

Certainly, if they are done well, debates provide an incredible service to voters who want to make informed decisions.

But, of course, that’s not the only way to get informed about the candidates.

In addition to the importance of televised debates, this month, this newspaper also is working to bring our readers an opportunity to read about the positions and issues from both Ryan and Vance in an unfiltered written format.

I am very pleased to report that both Vance and Ryan last week committed to answering several of our questions in a unique and balanced format. The questions will be posed to each Senate candidate in upcoming one-on-one sit-down interviews. We will give each a limited amount of time to answer identical important and substantive questions, and then we will transcribe their answers and present them to our readers in an unfiltered, “Q-and-A” format in coming weeks.

We believe this very fair and balanced format will give our readers an opportunity to read about the candidates’ thoughts and opinions in their own words.

We currently are ironing out details, including scheduling challenges.

I’ve always believed that candidates who avoid debates as a political maneuver are taking the wrong approach. All candidates should be thinking about ways to inform and serve voters. They are seeking to become public servants, after all!

That’s why candidates should not attempt to avoid these types of opportunities, even if advised against it by their campaign advisers that not debating might boost likelihood of election success.

I suspect that might be the political maneuver being implemented by DeWine.

With a strong lead over Whaley in polling, fundraising and name recognition, DeWine might just believe he has little to gain in a debate. He argues, in fact, that Ohioans already know where he stands on key issues from the economy to guns and abortion.

Still, voters deserve the right to see the two candidates offer their positions on key statewide issues in a head-to-head debate.

The Ohio Debate Commission Board President Dan Moulthrop recently said debates “would serve campaigns, serve voters and strengthen democracy.”

I agree.

Moulthrop added, “This election year has been plagued with candidates from both parties who prize their campaign consultants’ input over voters’ information needs. When 84 percent of Ohioans are saying they want debates and campaigns refuse a good-faith offer from a statewide organization, democracy is paying the price.”

blinert@tribtoday.com

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