Akaka rejects call for more debates
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka says he will stick to just one televised debate, despite calls from opponent U.S. Rep. Ed Case for a series of debates.
In an interview yesterday, Akaka said he had been considering whether to debate Case since his fellow Democrat announced that he would run against him in January.
"We have from the very beginning said we would consider it. I would say we are focusing on it on Aug. 31st, and we are looking forward to it," Akaka said.
AARP is sponsoring a debate to be televised on PBS Hawaii on Aug. 31, but no other details have been worked out, according to AARP.
Case said yesterday that he wanted Akaka to agree to a series of debates or at least give all the commercial television stations permission to also broadcast the PBS debate. If that was not acceptable, Case suggested that the debate be carried on the national CSPAN channel.
Akaka, however, said he would not get involved with negotiating the terms of the debate with Case.
Case also said he objected to Akaka's refusal to allow the candidates to question each other during the debate, but Akaka said that decision would be left to his campaign advisers.
"That is being handled by the campaign people. They are negotiating this with the Case people. They will be making those arrangements. Whatever decisions they will finally accept will be whatever I will do," Akaka said.
The decision to debate Case has been a controversial one in the Akaka campaign, according to Akaka.
"There are many sides to it," Akaka said.
"Many people have told me not to debate, a few told me to debate, so there has been a mixture of what people want," he said.
"I know the media has been looking for a debate. My campaign people and I discussed this, and we decided we will do this one," Akaka said.
Case, however, sent Akaka a letter saying it was "crucial" to have a series of debates.
"We both owe it to our voters to provide them with a range of debates with which to make an informed choice."
As Case challenges Akaka, he repeatedly says that Akaka has not been able to present his positions in debates on the Senate floor, and that has hurt Hawaii.
"Fundamentally, what this is demonstrating is Senator Akaka, I don't believe, has the ability to perform the full range of his responsibility on the floor of the United States Senate," Case said Tuesday in a news conference.
Akaka rejected that notion yesterday, saying he was more effective by reaching a compromise than in battling for an advantage in a debate.
"Working with people even before the questions come up makes a huge difference," Akaka said.
Debates pose tricky hurdles for candidates
Republican and Democratic political observers and veteran politicians advise that debates, such as the Aug. 31 one between Democrats Daniel Akaka and Ed Case, can be tricky.
Sincerity and compassion are some of the traits voters are looking for, the old-timers say, but they caution that it is just as easy to blow an election with a poor performance than win one with a good job.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano says voters judge a candidate not just on points scored, but on sincerity.
He recalled the debate during the 1962 governor's race, when Republican Gov. Bill Quinn was challenged by Democrat John Burns.
"Quinn was clearly the superior speaker, but he came across as insincere because he seemed theatrical -- as if he was trying to emulate JFK," Cayetano said.
"It was painful to watch Burns at first because he was nervous, dry-mouthed and stuttered on several of his answers. Towards the end, Quinn seemed artificial and Burns came across as sincere," Cayetano said, noting that Burns went on to win the election and served three terms as governor.
In his own debates, Cayetano, who has said he never considered himself to be an accomplished public speaker, remembers his nervousness in his first debate with Republican Linda Lingle.
"At the opening, I felt like the underdog because Lingle has excellent speaking skills," he said. "But luckily for me, she didn't have a good grasp of the issues, and it showed."
Cayetano won re-election in that 1998 campaign. Other observers say Lingle was the victor in the last debate of her 2002 campaign, and that helped her win the governorship.
John Radcliffe, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, lobbyist and union official, has been an adviser on several campaigns. He says Lingle's tactics against former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono won the day.
"Careful Mazie was winning the race ... and the debate. Lingle was doing fine, but there was a question about whether either one had the heart for the job -- whether or not either one could connect with the people," Radcliffe said.
Regarding a question about how to get more native Hawaiians the home lands they were due, "Mazie answered carefully, correctly ... and Linda lashed out, saying that it could be done, it should be done and done now, and forget about infrastructure and forget about the bureaucracy -- just do it," Radcliffe said. "That outburst, I think, changed the way many looked at her: She had some 'fire.' She had compassion."
Former GOP state Sen. D.G. "Andy" Anderson, who has been a candidate in major political debates including runs for mayor and governor, says debates are hyped by the media and actually appeal mostly to a candidate's supporters.
"The audience watching is actually a very small percentage," Anderson said.
But he warned that while it is difficult to win an election with a debate performance, "it is possible to blow an election."
"If you really make a goof and the daily media types will pick it up and run with it," Anderson said, it could be a deadly blow to a campaign.
As for the Akaka-Case debate, Anderson said he doubts Akaka would have agreed to Case's challenge "if he weren't comfortable with it."