Nolan Finley: Debate over debates nears an ending
Terri Lynn Land's decision to debate Gary Peters in the U.S. Senate race could be a capitulation to pressure from a media that has dubbed her a stealth candidate for not committing earlier to a face-off.
Or maybe it's a crafty move in a campaign strategy from a candidate who's savvier than than the former two-term secretary of state is being depicted.
Land never said she wouldn't debate Peters, the Democratic congressman and her opponent in the contest. She just dodged the question.
Meanwhile, she's been working for months with a team of experts to fortify her knowledge of both foreign and domestic issues likely to come up in a debate. She's also been training to improve her comfort level in front of the camera.
An odd episode of stage fright during a press conference at the Mackinac Policy Conference last spring sealed her deer in the headlights image. That's since been enhanced by the occasional awkward response to media questions.
Land cut back on interviews with the press, creating the impression that she's not ready for the scrutiny and spotlight that comes with being a U.S. Senator.
That's worked to sharply lower expectations of Land in a head-to-head debate with Peters, now considered both the more informed and articulate candidate. If she shows up on the stage and doesn't faint when the lights come on, she'll have surpassed what's anticipated.
But if she holds her own, sounds engaged and confident, and if she manages to maneuver Peters into coming across as arrogant or bullying, she'll give her campaign a much needed boost. That's a worthwhile risk to take for a candidate who's been slipping in the polls.
There's also been movement this week on gubernatorial debates. Gov. Rick Snyder says he'll hold 10 town halls across the state, and will invite his Democratic opponent Mark Schauer to share the stage.
Schauer faces a risk similar to the one Land is taking. Right now, voters know him only from his campaign ads, which have been quite effective.
Standing before voters with the governor, he'll have to substantiate the claims in his advertising, as well as add the missing details to his various promises and proposals. Just like with Land, if he doesn't have the goods, it will be tough to fake it.
At least one of the gubernatorial town halls is likely to be televised, and controlled by an independent party. Negotiations are moving ahead to put the candidates together in a televised forum on a stage in Detroit before an audience of undecided voters.
If it comes off, voters will benefit. Hearing first-hand from the candidates in a setting not tainted by partisanship and with a free-flowing format that doesn't include red lights and buzzers should give those who haven't yet committed their vote better information for making a decision.
Too much energy has been spent in this campaign season debating about debates. It seems as if that issue is coming off the table, and the candidates will indeed go mano a mano.
Viewing the contenders in a setting other than 60 second attack ads will be a refreshing change.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.