I am announcing today that I, Pat Rynard, am challenging Republican Speaker of the Iowa House Linda Upmeyer to one million debates between now and Election Day. Although I have not informed Speaker Upmeyer of this ahead of time, I will premptively call her out for shamefully avoiding these fair and reasonable debates. What is Speaker Upmeyer hiding? Is she afraid to confront the real issues in front of hardworking Iowa voters? Shameful, I say. Shameful.
Now, does it make sense for a random Democratic-leaning writer to debate the Speaker of the House? Not really.
Is holding one million debates between now and Election Day even theoretically possible? Absolutely not.
Should I bash Speaker Upmeyer to the Iowa press over this for the next several months while other important issues could be addressed? Eh, why not?
If all this sounds silly, it is only slightly moreso than that wonderful, time-honored tradition of campaign debate gamesmanship. As the trees prepare to change over to their autumnal colors, reporters’ inboxes hear the constant pinging of press releases from rival campaigns accusing each other of holding too few face-offs or defending themselves.
Here in Iowa, the debate over the debates reached fever pitch this week, with the senate and house campaigns sparring with one another over how many debates should be held for each race. Patty Judge’s campaign has labeled Chuck Grassley “Duck, Duck, Chuck,” for not agreeing to four additional debates, while Grassley’s campaign hit back on Judge skipping debates with her fellow Democratic candidates during the primary this year. Jim Mowrer’s campaign delivered a letter to David Young’s requesting an additional debate. Kim Weaver encouraged her supporters to vote in a poll that questioned how many debates Steve King should hold with her. And Rod Blum called for ten debates against Monica Vernon earlier this summer before later pushing for six.
The arguments all follow a familiar pattern, so much so that you could plug lines into old press releases from campaigns two years ago. The candidate seen as the underdog typically requests more debates in the hopes of exposure and extra chances for their opponent to trip up. They often ask for more than what they think is actually reasonable in an attempt to negotiate it something more than their opponent’s current offer. The front-runner will push back, finding ways to accuse their rival of hypocrisy because they weren’t at some forum once. It is all very nice, they get a few press stories over it, and then the campaign goes on.
Is any of the debate over debates really that meaningful? Sometimes. King used to ignore his opponents in the past, but accepted debates with his more serious challengers of Christie Vilsack and Jim Mowrer, as well as Rick Bertrand in his primary this year (that produced an amazing hourlong back-and-forth). There are legitimate concerns about incumbents or front-runners playing it too safe and not being accessible to the public.
But does it actually change the mind of any voter? Probably not, though it might play a bit into the idea that some candidate is evasive. But the real things that could change voters’ minds is what happens in those debates, which is why these skirmishes happen, even if the campaigns’ back-and-forth over scheduling is a bit of a sideshow.
Still, there’s no denying it can be a little fun, especially when the campaigns get creative with their criticism.
So let me reiterate my challenge: you and me, Speaker Upmeyer, one million debates over the next 53 days. I am willing to slightly negotiate down the amount of face-offs if you are really that concerned about defending your record in public.
I’m also insisting we debate at certain locations that I have chosen totally at random, and definitely not in an attempt to give myself a “home turf” advantage. These locations include the street corners of five of Iowa’s most Democratic precincts, the board room of AFSCME Council 61, my parent’s house in Missouri, Tumeas Restaurant, a gay wedding, a Noam Chomsky book club meeting and the faculty room at the University of Iowa.
Madam Speaker, I throw down this gauntlet to debate you anywhere, anytime, on any topic. Unless, of course, circumstances change and it is no longer politically advantageous to me, in which case I have a pre-existing scheduling conflict.
I await your reply.
by Pat Rynard