Talent opens debate on campaign debates

Thursday, April 11, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Seven months out from the November elections, the debate over debates has begun between the two major candidates for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat.

Republican Jim Talent sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Democrat, on Wednesday proposing they jointly participate in two debates, or candidate forums, each month from May to October.

Though Carnahan has yet to formally respond, campaign spokesman Dan Leistikow said the senator looks forward to debating Talent in the fall. However, Leistikow said, it would be inappropriate for the two to debate prior to the Aug. 6 party primaries.

Although Carnahan and Talent are expected to easily claim the nominations of their respective parties, each faces primary opposition from political unknowns.

Compromise possible

Talent said he's willing to compromise on his proposal, which calls for he and Carnahan to take the stage together 12 times -- a hefty number. In the 2000 Senate race, John Ashcroft and Mel Carnahan squared off just twice.

"It doesn't have to be two a month beginning in May," Talent said. "I just thought I'd get the process going because people are interested. It would be best to do a few over time instead of a bunch all at once."

Assuming the candidates are amenable, Southeast Missouri State University could play host this fall to a debate carried live on the C-SPAN cable network.

In a March 15 letter to a university official, C-SPAN senior executive producer Steven Scully said the network would broadcast a proposed Talent/Carnahan debate at the university if it happens.

"C-SPAN would very much like to air your debate live, if possible," Scully said. "If there is a scheduling conflict ... we would then air your debate on a tape-delayed basis in our prime-time schedule."

A debate carried on C-SPAN would give both the candidates and Southeast substantial national exposure. The channel is available in 85 million households nationwide.

Missouri's Senate contest is being closely watched nationally, with the Republican Party targeting Carnahan in its bid to regain a Senate majority. Democrats currently control the chamber by one vote.

Talent said he would gladly debate Carnahan in Cape Girardeau. Southeast sponsored a debate between Talent and Bob Holden during the 2000 Missouri gubernatorial campaign.

"That would be a great venue," Talent said. "I can't think of a better place to do another debate."

Leistikow said Carnahan would certainly consider an invitation from the university.

"We haven't received anything formal," he said, but, of course, we are open to that possibility."

In the meantime, Talent said he will continue to accept invitations to candidate forums and is hopeful that Carnahan at some point will choose to join him. "There are a lot of important issues we do need to talk about," Talent said.

Leistikow said Talent, a congressman during his failed gubernatorial bid, missed 104 votes while campaigning.

"Senator Carnahan is not willing to do the same," Leistikow said.

A Talent spokesman fired back that Carnahan has missed important votes during her two years in the Senate, but that debates could be held on days the chamber is not in session to accommodate her schedule.


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