Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and Democratic senatorial nominee Travis Childers will speak in succession on July 31 at the Neshoba County Fair, the state’s premier political event. It will serve as a good jumping off point for the fall Senate campaign.
But it also will underscore the fact that so far, Cochran has not responded to Childers’ proposal for a series of debates around the state in advance of the Nov. 4 general election.
Unlike the Republican primary where Cochran, as incumbents generally do, refused to debate, his campaign apparently has not closed the door completely on debating Childers. It would be good for the voters if Cochran said yes to at least one, and preferably more, face-to-face discussions between the candidates.
Both Cochran and Childers are reasonable men who are well-versed on public policy and would likely produce a better-than-average political debate. While they share some similarities, they also differ on important policy matters that a debate or debates would help illuminate.
Naturally, Childers, the former 1st District congressman, wants to debate. That’s conventional strategy for challengers as they seek to attain equal footing with incumbents.
But a debate could be strategically helpful for Cochran as well. It’s clear now that his lack of engagement in the first primary campaign against state Sen. Chris McDaniel was a flawed strategy.
Only when Cochran shed the overly cautious, highly controlled approach in the runoff did his campaign start to gain momentum.
A Cochran decision to debate – even if strategically unusual for a favored incumbent – would signal to voters that he’s back on top of his game. It would be a sign that a candidate and campaign battered by a brutal primary have emerged with renewed energy and confidence.
More important than strategic political considerations for either candidate is that a Cochran-Childers debate, or a series of them, would be good for the voting public and Mississippi politics in general. The awful mess that was the Republican U.S. Senate primary campaign needs to give way to a civil debate on the issues affecting Mississippi and the nation. Most voters no doubt would welcome such a change as the campaign heads into the deciding stretch.
Both candidates are capable of elevating the tone and redeeming the nature of this campaign.
Debating could be one means to that important end.