published Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Debates up next in some races


by Chris Carroll

ELECTION DATES

* Oct. 9: Last day to register to vote

* Oct. 17: First day of early voting

* Nov. 1: Last day of early voting

* Nov. 6: Election Day

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Will you debate or won't you?

It seems an easy question for nominees as the primary election season draws to a close and the matchups become "Democrat vs. Republican," veering away from the infighting that erupts during primary battles.

But clarity never comes easily in politics, and one Democratic nominee still doesn't know if he will ever debate the Republican whose office he desires. Another local challenger knows she will share a stage with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, but maybe only once.

Fourth Congressional District Democratic nominee and state Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvedere, on Tuesday challenged U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais to three debates "over the next month" in advance of the Nov. 6 election. DesJarlais did not agree immediately, so Stewart asked the freshman congressman to email a response to his campaign before Monday.

Stewart probably won't receive a friendly reply. DesJarlais campaign spokesman Brandon Lewis on Wednesday said the congressman believes "it's very early in the process to be discussing debates."

"[We] intend to focus our time on meeting people throughout the district," Lewis said.

It's a little different in the 3rd District, where both nominees -- Republican incumbent Fleischmann and Democratic challenger Dr. Mary Headrick -- have promised to debate each other.

But there are nuances behind the agreement.

Headrick, a Maynardville, Tenn., acute-care physician, said it's important to have "three to five subject-oriented" debates throughout the 3rd District, which joins Chattanooga and Oak Ridge with rural areas in 11 counties all the way to the Kentucky border.

"Urban and rural have different needs," she said. "Your most informed voters will either read about or listen to these debates, so we need to do several."

But Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell said the congressman only promised to debate Headrick. Fleischmann never said how many times, Powell said, so a single debate is possible.

"He pledged to debate her," Powell said. "Outside of that, we've got our own campaign to run and Chuck's got to do his job in Washington. There's still a lot to figure out."

Democrat AndraƩ McGary and Republican Todd Gardenhire, nominees in Tennessee's 10th Senate District, are perhaps the most enthusiastic candidates on the question of debates. Both men agree they're "diametrically opposed" on health care, taxes and workforce development.

"I'm ready now," McGary said. "Day One. Let's go."

For Gardenhire and McGary, geography is less of a debate hurdle than it is for congressional candidates with hundreds of miles to cover. District 10 includes portions of only two counties that share a border -- Bradley and Hamilton.

"If we debate, and I'm sure we will, I'd insist on having one in each county," Gardenhire said. "I don't mind debates. I think the voters deserve it."

Still, candidates said, there are drawbacks to sparring publicly. It's important to screen moderators and debate sponsors to detect bias, Gardenhire said, and as Headrick pointed out, it's not always easy to get your message out.

"They say, 'OK, what do you think about world poverty?' And they give you 30 seconds. That's tough," she said.

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