Tuesday night, the five largest newspapers in Texas held their gubernatorial debate at KLRU-TV’s studios on the UT campus — Democrat Bill White, Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto all showed up. Republican Gov. Rick Perry did not.
When the newspapers jointly announced in September they were going to host a debate, they said it would happen whether or not both major party candidates agreed to attend.
Perry has refused to debate until White releases his tax returns from 1993 to 1998, a tactic Republican candidates have embraced both in Texas and nationwide. Perry has also refused to meet with editorial boards of newspapers in the state, bucking another election-year tradition. Glass and White attacked Perry’s record at almost every turn.
Communication assistant professor Talia Stroud said Perry didn’t attend the debate to keep the opponent from scoring so close to Election Day.
“In general, incumbents and candidates with a lead in the polls are less likely to agree to a debate because they have little strategic reason to do so,” she said. “A candidate who is trailing has little to lose from debating.”
Debates provide an opportunity to better inform voters not just about where they stand on the issues, but also how they deal with adversity of the situation, said Rodger Jones, an editorial writer with The Dallas Morning News, which helped arrange the debate.
“How they respond to questions tells us what they’re made of,” Jones said. “People want to be able to judge candidates for not only what they say they stand for but also by what they appear to be.”
Because Perry didn’t attend, the debate didn’t have the magnitude it could have had in the election season, he said. He maintained that debates play an important role in the American democratic process.
“[Debates] hold a tradition that most people want to see continued indefinitely,” Jones said.