It is “unbecoming” of a member of Congress like Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) to refuse to debate a credible primary challenger like state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a top Mississippi newspaper’s editorial board wrote Sunday.
“We understand such decisions are based on calculated political risks and rewards,” the Jackson Clarion-Ledger editorial board wrote of Cochran’s refusal to debate McDaniel, as well as the refusal of Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) to debate former Democrat Gene Taylor, who switched parties to challenge Palazzo. “It is generally the case that an incumbent has little to gain from debating, whereas a challenger is given the opportunity to directly challenge his opponent’s record. Nevertheless, some decisions should – and in many cases do – go beyond political calculations.”
The Clarion-Ledger editorial board argued that Cochran’s refusal to debate McDaniel stifles the free flow of ideas crucial to a functioning democracy. “Part of our democracy is the open and frank discussion of ideas,” the paper wrote. “This is vital in the election process between two viable candidates who have legitimate differences in political philosophies. While such differences are more common in general elections, we have seen a number of examples in Mississippi where heated primaries featured candidates sharing a stage in order to debate.”
The paper cites how Mississippi Republicans have traditionally, and recently, never shied away from debates in primaries. In 2008, 2010, and 2011, the paper noted, there were heated GOP primaries for Mississippi’s third congressional district seat, first district seat, and for the governorship and lieutenant governorship, respectively. In those cases, Gov. Phil Bryant, Rep. Alan Nunnelee, and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) – each of whom won the races – actually agreed to debate their opponents.
Palazzo, the paper notes, argues that since Taylor left the Democratic Party to run as a Republican – arguably Taylor’s only way back to the political table and not a genuine change of belief – concerns over Taylor’s authenticity comprise his reason to refuse to debate. However, the Clarion-Ledger editors wrote that Cochran has just outright refused – without providing a reason.
“For his part, Cochran’s camp has given no reason,” the paper wrote. “They just flatly refuse to debate.”
The Clarion-Ledger argued that while Cochran and Palazzo may have “valid reasons” for refusing to debate, “they are wrong.”
“Being unwilling to debate a credible candidate is unbecoming of a member of the U.S. Congress who purports to represent the democratic process by which our leaders are chosen,” the editors wrote. “Cochran and Palazzo should give voters the opportunity to watch democracy in action and to witness the debating of ideas and policies that matter most to our country.”
Cochran’s campaign has not responded to a request for comment in response to the Clarion-Ledger editorial.
Last week, McDaniel told Breitbart News that he is appalled Cochran won’t debate him.
“It is beyond comprehension that a man who claims to serve the people does not think he owes them a debate as he asks for what would be his 7th term in the U.S. Senate,” McDaniel said in an email. “If Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) won’t stand up to try to defend his liberal voting record in a debate with a two-term Mississippi state senator, what makes us think he’ll stand up to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Barack Obama?”