Congressional candidates should engage in debates
No debates are scheduled among the candidates seeking their parties' nominations for congressional seats.
DEBATES among candidates for high office in Hawaii usually are scheduled after the primary elections, but voters deserve an early look this year to make comparisons in three hotly contested primary races. Party leaders should seek that level of exposure of candidates, preferably in televised debates, in the two months remaining before the primary polls open.
In two of those races, the candidates themselves need no party assistance in planning such debates because -- barring late entries before next week's filing deadline -- they are essentially two-man contests: Rep. Ed Case's challenge of Daniel Akaka for his U.S. Senate seat, and the Republican race between state Sen. Bob Hogue and former state Rep. Quentin Kawananakoa for the House seat vacated by Case.
Case and Akaka are scheduled to speak separately on Aug. 8 to the Hawaii Publishers Association, but Case says Akaka has not responded to his challenge to debate. Although incumbents often avoid such encounters in both primary and general election campaigns, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., debated primary challenger Ned Lamont this month, and Akaka should do the same with Case.
Likewise, Hogue and Kawananakoa should schedule a debate so voters can discern their differences. Some of their positions on issues are outlined on their Web pages, but those are sketchy at best. A robust encounter is needed for voters to determine how they differ and who would be most effective in representing Hawaii's rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in Congress.
Democratic Party leaders should arrange at least one debate among the party's numerous candidates for Case's seat in Congress. Many of the candidates now are relying on name recognition to win the party's nomination, and most probably have inflated expectations.
Democratic candidates include former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono; state Sens. Clayton Hee, Gary Hooser, Colleen Hanabusa and Ron Menor; state Rep. Brian Schatz, former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga, City Councilman Nestor Garcia and lawyer Joe Zuiker.
With that many politicians aspiring to the post, the primary winner could end up with a small and unrepresentative plurality. That could result from a loyal following -- ideological, ethnic or otherwise -- away from the mainstream of public opinion. The GOP nominee could benefit from such an outcome.
The absence of debate also could be advantageous to candidates able to secure large campaign chests. At this point, according to federal campaign reports, that would give the edge to Hirono, followed by Hanabusa, Schatz and Hooser in the Democratic primary, and Kawananakoa, a Campbell Estate heir, in the GOP race.
The outcome of primary elections for these important positions should be based not on name recognition or campaign expenditures but on joint public appearances that allow voters to size up the candidates debating the issues.