“Breaking a logjam that persisted after the August primary,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) today finally agreed to participate in three debates with her two opponents, Democrat Tarryl Clark and Independence Party nominee Bob Anderson. Bachmann had been “evasive about her plans,” forcing her opponents to cancel several events because she never responded to their requests.
Bachmann’s acquiescence was welcomed by her opponents and Minnesota political reporters, but she is unfortunately an outlier among uber-conservative Republican candidates this year. As Politico noted today, these candidates are “ducking public events, refusing to publicize the ones they do hold and skipping debates and national TV interviews altogether.” Indeed, across the country, tea party candidates and Bachmann protégés are refusing to debate:
— Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Bachmann’s “best friend in Congress,” with whom she shares staff, has never participated in a formal debate since arriving in 2003. When Democratic nominee Matt Campbell publicly confronted King in August about his refusal to debate, King replied, “And my answer to that is that, judging by the fashion that you’ve conducted yourself, you have not earned it. Thank you. Next question.”
— Nevada GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle, whom Bachmann praised for “doing a fantastic job,” abruptly canceled a debate last month that she herslef had requested. In June, Angle looked into a TV camera and said, “What I would like to see is Harry Reid come into this studio and have a true debate, and on the issues.” Nonetheless, when given that opportunity, she refused, bizarrely explaining that she canceled because, “We wanted an informed electorate.”
— Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), whose Senate bid was endorsed by Bachmann, wrote a letter to his opponent in August inviting her to participate in six debates — he subsequently backed out of all but two of those.
— Illinois GOP congressional nominee Bobby Schilling, whom Bachmann endorsed, has been resisting holding televised debates with moderators, preferring un-televised town halls instead, in which the public asks the questions.
— Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), whom Bachmann has praised as a model governor, has long refused to debate his opponents or meet with newspaper editorial boards. Yesterday, he was slammed in an unprecedented above-the-fold, above-the-nameplate editorial with an all caps headline, “TIME FOR RESPECT – Governor Perry Should end his silence.”
— Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who received praise from Bachmann for signing her state’s draconian new immigration, said she will only debate if her poll numbers drop: “Maybe there would be a possibility that we would debate if my numbers starting dropping dramatically,’’ she said.
— Texas GOP congressional nominee Francisco “Quico” Canseco, whom Bachmann has endorsed, is refusing to meet with the editorial board of his hometown paper, the San Antonio Express-News, claiming an “inherent bias” in favor of his opponent, Rep. Ciro Rodriquez (D-TX).
These tea party candidates have eagerly followed Bachmann’s lead in their quest to appeal to her devoted fan base. They would do well to follow her lead in debating as well, in order to appeal to the broader public — that is, of course, unless they’ve made the calculation that revealing the true extent of their extreme beliefs will actually alienate mainstream voters, instead of attracting them.