Supporters of Democratic congressional candidates Bill Winter (CO-6, Douglas County) and Jay Fawcett (CO-5, Colorado Springs) have been screaming to anyone who will listen about how terrible it is that Republicans Tom Tancredo (CO-6) and Doug Lamborn (CO-5) refuse to show up for scheduled debates. Winter and Fawcett’s frustration is understandable, but the political strategy for Tancredo and Lamborn is sound; there’s no advantage for either of them to show up for a debate.
Neither Winter nor Fawcett have enough money at this point to really get their name out to voters in congressional districts that are strongly Republican, so Tancredo and Lamborn are wise to make sure that they do whatever they can to keep their Democratic opponents out of the news. If Tancredo doesn’t debate Winter, for example, then there is less opportunity for news coverage of the event; a debate between Winter and a Tancredo surrogate is much less interesting than a debate between Winter and Tancredo. If Tancredo doesn’t show up, there is also no chance that he will get surprised and be backed into a corner on an issue that he wasn’t prepared to discuss.
But at least Tancredo is sending surrogates to debate Winter, because Lamborn just isn’t showing up at all. Democrat Ken Salazar took the same approach during his 2004 primary race for the U.S. Senate against Mike Miles. Polls showed that Salazar had a huge lead over Miles as the election neared, so Salazar stopped showing up to events that were supposed to feature both candidates. Miles supporters were furious, but Salazar’s campaign was doing the politically-prudent thing.
Supporters of Winter and Fawcett like to say that their opponents owe it to the public to show up at debates, but that’s bunk. Nobody ever goes to these debates anyway, outside of supporters of either candidate, so there’s no reason to bother with them unless you are trying to gain a foothold in the race. Tancredo and Lamborn don’t need a foothold, so they aren’t bothering to show up. Sure, it’s frustrating, but if the situation were reversed, Winter and Fawcett would be wise to do the same thing.