An insider's look at debate gamesmanship

UPDATE: The Murphy campaign has informed The Day that the candidate cannot debate the week of Oct. 3 because Congress is scheduled to be in session. The rest of the blog, written before the announcement by the campaign, is self-explanatory ... we are still trying to come up with a date everyone will agree on.

I think candidate debates are important. It forces candidates to push past the talking points and confront their opponent face to face, rather than taking shots via the safety of political attacks ads. But, boy, they can be a pain in the-you-know-what to set up.

Take what I hope will be a televised debate between Senate candidates Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy at The Garde in New London on Oct. 3 or some other date thereabouts.

On Wednesday, the day after the primary, the Republican and Democrat came out swinging at each other. Murphy said he was ready to have a debate on jobs — immediately. The McMahon campaign machine quickly responded with its own press release that their candidate was ready to have four debates, one on jobs in the Groton area, home of Electric Boat. (Knowing Murphy voted against the defense bill, including money for EB, because of his opposition to continued spending on the Afghanistan war, the McMahon camp relished the idea of debating that point.)

Yours truly fired off an email to the McMahon campaign saying we and WTNH were ready to host one of those four debates at The Garde. I got a call from Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the campaign, saying McMahon was definitely interested, but requesting that we not go public until details could be worked out. I noted that the Garde had kept the nights of Oct. 10 and 24 open for a debate. No, that wouldn't work, said Murtaugh.

After some scrambling, I was able to secure the Oct. 3 date at the Garde and the television commitment for that date from WTNH and left a message to that effect with Murtaugh on Wednesday evening. I then planned to call the Murphy campaign first thing Thursday morning to see if they were game and, if it was a go, make an announcement. Oh, foolish me.

I arrived at work Thursday to find a voicemail from Murtaugh accepting on behalf of McMahon. Then I saw the press release emailed by the McMahon campaign announcing their acceptance — before I had had the chance to contact the Murphy campaign! So much for keeping it on background.

I immediately contacted the Murphy campaign and await a response. But they may have a conflict with Murphy's congressional duties that week. Did the McMahon purposely seek to steer the debate to a date when they knew Congress was in session and Murphy would face a conflict? Could well be.

Such are the games political campaigns play. Once, hopefully, we get both sides to agree then we move onto working out the ground rules for the debate. Can they bring notes? Who goes first? Who gets which dressing room? Oh, what fun!


Response to commenters:

@Mr Mac: Hey, Mac, I pride myself on asking tough but fair questions to all the candidates in the debate.

@Yan: I don't know about naive or stupid, but you're clearly misinformed.


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