Attending debate not high on candidates’ to-do lists

Wednesday, October 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Several Missouri statewide candidates plan to avoid the spotlight of the presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Friday — for what one political analyst says is a good reason.

The two major candidates for governor, along with other statewide candidates, say they do not plan to attend the debate.

Attending a presidential debate held in the same state in which one is running for statewide office might not be worth the risk, said Marvin Overby, an MU professor of political science.

“They don’t want to be there if things go badly for the candidate of their party,” he said, adding it might put the state candidate in the awkward position of having to explain the poor performance of his or her party’s presidential nominee, Overby said.

“Being away from the national debate if something goes really badly for the candidate of your party would not be a bad thing,” he said. “It would probably be a good thing.”

Gubernatorial candidate Claire McCaskill said that she doesn’t know exactly what she’ll be doing Friday night but that she is almost certain she wouldn’t be able to attend the debate.

“I’m not sure my schedule is going to allow me to be there or not,” McCaskill said.

While a strong showing in the debate by John Kerry could help Missouri Democrats, McCaskill downplayed the impact his performance might have on Missouri races and, in particular, her own race.

“I should say that my campaign is running separately from Senator Kerry’s campaign, and Missourians are going to make up their minds based on each race rather than voting for an entire party,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill said it’s important to distinguish between a spectator debate and a town hall debate. The audience for the town hall format is mostly composed of undecided voters, which might explain the absence of candidates for political office, McCaskill said.

The spectator format was used in the first presidential debate, held last week at the University of Miami in Florida. The town hall format will be used Friday in St. Louis.

John Hancock, spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Blunt, said he doesn’t think Blunt will attend the debate either. Rather, Blunt will capitalize on Bush’s time in the state during a campaign event with the president on Saturday.

Overby said he’s not surprised that candidates for the governor’s race have decided not to attend.

“Neither one of them have tried to tie themselves really closely with the presidential candidate of their party,” Overby said.

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