In a hotly-contested race, it is often considered a bad move to refuse a debate. It helps create the impression that an incumbent, or a challenger, has something to hide. In such races, the race is often close because the challenger is gaining on the incumbent.
Such a situation is developing in the race for State Treasurer, where Thomas Ravenel rolled out of a strong win in the runoff for the GOP nomination, and has begun an aggressive challenge of incumbent State Treasurer Grady Patterson. While his recent debate with fellow Republican John Rainey received mixed reviews from observers, his campaign seems to have hit the mark dead-on with Patterson’s refusal to participate in a debate.
According to Patterson:
Until Thomas is serious about being state treasurer, I will not be a part in his bid for the U.S. Senate. My opponent needs to stand before the public and state that he will serve four years and not challenge Sen. Graham.
My integrity, character and the trust I have built with the people of South Carolina should not be recklessly attacked by Mr. Ravenel in his bid for the U.S. Senate. The Office of State Treasurer deserves better. The people of South Carolina deserve better.
Greenville News (Friday, 9/8/06)
If Patterson wants to hit Ravenel hard over that question, as has been part of their overall strategy thus far, it would seem as if a debate would be a great opportunity to do so. However, if Ravenel were to commit to serving his term in the debate, which he has already done in the media, then Patterson’s trump card is gone.
According to Patterson's campaign manager, as a first pre-condition for a debate, Ravenel is expected to send "a press release or stands up in public and says it."
Isn't it enough to say it in a published news story?
As an additional pre-condition, Patterson's campaign expected Ravenel to disclaim statements he has made about the state's pension system, which is managed by the Treasurer's office.
Again I ask, if Ravenel is misleading the public, isn't it better to hit him with this stuff in a public debate, live for the home audience?
This refusal has generated plenty of media coverage, and least one event on a Florence television station will go on as scheduled without Patterson and essentially become thirty minutes of free advertising for Ravenel.
In a race which observers expect to be close, any wrong move could decide the outcome. A wrong move like this could make the difference between winning and losing in November.
After getting sidetracked with the Rainey debate, Ravenel needed something noteworthy to get his candidacy moving forward again. In this week’s “Play of the Week”, Ravenel was willing to face Patterson in a debate, while Patterson chose to duck the debate by hiding behind a wall of pre-conditions. His willingess to propose the debate, as well as Patterson's refusal, have helped to get his "roll" back.