It's the old debate story.
The guy who is ahead in a campaign doesn't want to debate the guy who is behind because the guy ahead might make a mistake and end up the guy behind.Ask Ted Wilson and Gov. Norm Bangerter about it. They understand the ploy very well.
Wilson, a Democrat, leads Bangerter, the Republican, by upward of 25 points in the public-opinion polls.
His campaign manager, Rob Jolley, says Wilson "won't likely" debate or show up to what are called "joint appearances" with the governor until after Labor Day.
That's not Memorial Day, May 30. He's talking about Labor Day, Sept. 3 just one week before the primary election and only nine weeks before the Nov. 8 final election.
Bangerter was looking forward to debating Wilson before the Utah Home Builders Association on Wednesday. But Wilson won't be there. He was invited to appear with Bangerter, but declined. He will address the homebuilders at a later date, said Anne Burns, Home Builders executive officer.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook, who is behind both Wilson and Bangerter in the polls, would love to debate both of them and is planning on going to the Home Builders' Wednesday luncheon. But Bangerter doesn't want to debate Cook. He wants to debate Wilson.
Wilson doesn't want to debate anybody. Not yet, at least.
That's a change from 1982.
That year, Wilson was running for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Wilson wanted to debate a lot, then.
Hatch agreed to a number of debates, and the pair went up and down the state arguing Hatch's record, the Reagan administration's policies and who would work harder for Utah.
Wilson even wanted more debates against Hatch, and when Hatch declined to meet him more, Wilson complained. Hatch pointed out that he had scheduled more debates with Wilson than Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held in their now-famous series of debates.
Thus it is that the candidate who is behind, who wants to debate, often tries to make a campaign issue over the lack of debates with the candidate who is ahead. This "debate over the debate" argument often bores voters. And, in any case, it's questionable if refusing to debate really harms a candidate.
But in some cases it might. Two years ago, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, had scheduled a number of debates against his Republican opponent, Salt Lake County Commissioner Tom Shimizu. They even set up a special committee to coordinate and monitor the debates.
They did meet in several debates. But Shimizu didn't like the format and didn't like how the audience was stacked with supporters asking loaded questions.
He announced he wouldn't debate again.
Owens made hay with that announcement. He showed up at the next debate location now canceled by Shimizu with a life size cutout of the commissioner. Owens pretended to debate the cutout.
Shimizu had to answer questions for weeks on why he wouldn't debate Owens.
Owens won, Shimizu lost. But it's unclear if Shimizu's debate stance cost him the election.
Wilson will debate Bangerter, says Jolley. He just wants to wait until voters are really interested in the gubernatorial campaign and are paying attention.
Bangerter thinks they're paying attention now. But for now, there are no scheduled debates.