Rep. Tom Cotton is having a press conference shortly to propose a series of of five one-on-one debates with Sen. Mark Pryor. I’ll update this post shortly with details. Cotton is proposing what he calls “Lincoln-Douglas”-style debates. There would be no moderators or panelists — just opening and closing statements, candidate-to-candidate questions, answers and rebuttals.
*UPDATE: “Arkansas faces a critical choice in this race for Senate,” Cotton told the press. “Do we support the Obama agenda or do we oppose it.” Cotton then managed to say “Obama” or “Obamacare” nine times in one minute. Impressive! Clearly Team Cotton has practiced the perseveration to achieve a higher rate of OPM (Obama per minute). Pryor, Cotton said, supports the Obama legacy and the Obama agenda and puts Obama first, Obama, Obama, etc. Oh, and Cotton would repeal (and replace, though no details, natch) Obamacare.
“Arkansans want a real debate on these serious issues,” Cotton said. He proposed a series of five debates, each one in a different region of the state. He wants “no moderators, no reporters, no panel of questioners — just a time-keeper to make sure it’s fair and square…I’m proposing the kind of debate that we haven’t seen in Arkansas for some time, but the kind of debates our parents and our grandparents experienced and tell us about, just like the Lincoln-Douglas debate.” (Were Lincoln-Douglas style debates actually common a generation ago? For some reason, this never came up when my grandparents told me stories about the good old days.)
“What do you say Sen. Pryor?” Cotton said. “You and me, alone, five times, all around Arkansas, no moderator, speaking directly to each other and to the voters.”
Of course, this is a common maneuver, challenging the incumbent to good-old-fashioned Lincoln-Douglas debates, which for whatever reason always inspire intense nostalgia among the chattering classes. (The cliché is that this is the gambit that the candidate who is behind whips out; perhaps the recent polls have the Cotton campaign spooked).
But this is no gimmick, insisted Cotton. “I don’t think it can be called a stunt or a ploy to treat the voters with the respect they deserve,” he said.
Roby Brock pointed out that the actual format of the Lincoln-Douglas debates was one speaking for 60 minutes, the other for 90 minutes, and then back to the first speaker for 30 minutes. “Are we going to have to suffer through that?” Brock asked.
“I wouldn’t inflict that on the people of Arkansas but I’m open to that kind of speech-reply-response debate. I’m open to a series of question-answer-reply debates as well. I’m open to any of those formats. The main thing is I think Sen. Pryor and I should be on a stage and look each other in the eye…and appeal for votes directly without any mediating from moderators or reporters or panelists or anything else.”
To me, this sounds like the sort of thing that sounds nice conceptually but in practice would just result in the candidates constantly interrupting each other. Cotton said he wasn’t concerned about that, noting that he was proposing the presence of a time keeper. “The dignified, respectful thing when you’re competing against someone for a race as important as the United States Senate is to respect those kinds of very simple limits,” Cotton said. I’m skeptical that putting these two alone on a stage would actually lead to something more dignified or respectful or substantive or informative, but perhaps I’m too cynical.
“We don’t need a lot of planning, we don’t need a venue,” Cotton said. “I’m happy to do this on a flatbed truck with two bales of hay.” Zing!