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Published October 01 2010

Forum editorial: Minnesota candidates mix it up

Whatever the outcome of the contest for governor of Minnesota, the three-way tilt will go down in the history books because of the debates. It’s a safe bet no other race in the nation has featured as many head-to-head-to-head genuine debates as has the Gopher State’s sprint to the governor’s mansion.

We say “genuine debates” because Democrat Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner have engaged in the real thing. Most of their appearances have been good old-fashioned tussles about substance. The candidates have aired their clear differences on serious issues, taken two-by-four-between-the-eyes criticisms from each other, responded spontaneously and candidly – and usually with good humor. With an exception or two, debate formats have encouraged unrehearsed free-for-alls that have given Minnesotans insights into the politics and personalities of the debaters. The best was an early debate on the public television program “Almanac.” The moderator tossed out issues, then got out of the way and let the candidates mix it up.

The lively debate season in Minnesota is in sharp contrast to the stultifying debate atmosphere across the Red River in North Dakota. It was like negotiating a Middle East peace accord for U.S. House candidates to even agree to debate. Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg engaged in weeks of finger-pointing and he-said-he-said stalling until finally agreeing to a measly three debates this month. It was like watching a couple of spoiled brats on the playground.

In the North Dakota U.S. Senate race, Republican John Hoeven was curiously particular about debate sponsors, saying he didn’t want to accept a debate from one private broadcaster or newspaper and not another. Didn’t want to make anyone mad, his campaign said. So far, there has been only one debate between Hoeven and Democrat Tracy Potter. Debate? Not hardly. The confining structure showcased Potter’s version of Kumbayah and Hoeven’s oh-so-careful partisan boilerplate, but the candidates did not debate. At least one more is scheduled.

Whether the blame rests with sponsoring organizations’ formats or demands from the campaigns, North Dakota’s political debates have not been debates. Maybe the upcoming face-offs will be better.

Meanwhile, northwest Minnesotans will have an opportunity to see the three gubernatorial hopefuls go at it again, this time at a scheduled mid-October debate in Bemidji sponsored by Debate Minnesota. Want the real thing? Go to Bemidji.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.