A Historic Minnesota Election Year with Historically Few Debates

October 19, 2018 05:57 PM

UPDATE: Friday, Oct. 19: 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has issued the following statement as Sen. Amy Klobuchar has agreed to participate in Day of Debates since Tom Hauser's initial story aired Tuesday.

This debate has been months in the making. From the start, it's been our goal to bring the candidates together to help you make an informed decision in November. Unfortunately, one of the candidates will not be present. Democrat Tina Smith declined our invitation to participate due to a “complicated schedule.” We will still feature a 15-minute interview with her opponent, Republican Karin Housley.


Five Eyewitness News understands having a single candidate in a debate may give the impression of unfairness to a candidate who does not participate. We believe it would be unfair to Minnesota voters to allow one candidate not appearing on the only statewide, primetime debate to silence his or her opponent in this important race. We will always put Minnesota citizens first.

Senator Klobuchar originally declined our invitation as well. That prompted two of our debate partners to withdraw their support. They are the "North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters" and the "Service Employees International Union."
The two organizations released a statement Thursday, which reads in part "We appreciated the idea of business and labor putting aside our differences for a night to hear from candidates about issues facing Minnesota families." The statement goes on to say "We no longer are comfortable having our names on this event and are dropping our sponsorship for this debate."

On Friday, Senator Klobuchar and challenger Jim Newberger confirmed a debate in that senate race, and voters will see it Sunday evening, along with the other candidate debates. We reached back out to both unions for a response and have yet to hear back.

KSTP will also be airing candidate debates and interviews from 1:30 p.m. - 5 p.m. of all U.S. House of Representatives districts in Minnesota, and Wisconsin's 7th District. The debates will be aired without commercial interruption, and will also be streamed on KSTP.com.

Many Minnesota voters complain they can't separate fact from fiction in television ads about political candidates, especially in 2018 when the state is getting national attention for so many key statewide and congressional races. If voters are hoping to see the candidates go head-to-head on the issues on television, they'll likely be out of luck.

It's a rare year when both of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs. However, it's also a rare year because the two Democratic U.S. Senators are declining all televised debates.

"When a candidate has evidence he or she trusts that they're ahead they go into a stall strategy," says political analyst Steven Schier of Carleton College. "Four corner it used to be called in basketball. Where you just sort of freeze the ball and don't give your opponent an opportunity to score points and of course debates are an opportunity for that."

Both U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith each declined invitations to participate in live debates with their Republican opponents that will be broadcast live statewide in every television market in Minnesota. Candidates for governor and attorney general have agreed to participate. The debates, produced by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, will be co-sponsored  several chambers of commerce and Metropolitan State University.

More from KSTP:

Election Coverage 2018

KSTP Candidate Debates

While Smith was visiting a farm near Cannon Falls, KSTP asked her why she won't participate.

"I have a couple debates scheduled in the coming weeks and I'm looking forward to those," Smith said.

She was referring to two radio debates that will not be televised and will happen long after many voters have already cast ballots in early voting. As for why she can't appear on Sunday night at Metropolitan State University, Smith would only say, "Just a big complicated schedule."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar declined KSTP's invitation to participate in a primetime, statewide debate, citing a scheduling conflict. Wednesday, her campaign did agree to a KSTP debate, however, a mutually-agreed upon date an time could not be worked out. Klobuchar is spending time Sunday campaigning in western Minnesota.

Hatch also pointed out Klobuchar debated her Republican opponent Jim Newberger at Farmfest in August before the primary elections, and again at the Minnesota State Fair in August. She doesn't plan to participate in any further debates.

This does appear to be a pattern in many elections across the country where front-running candidates try to keep the spotlight off their opponents. In Mississippi, Republican Senator Cyndy Hyde-Smith was caught on video explaining she turned down debates with an opponent because, "My guys are saying that's like handing him a $200,000 campaign donation because he's way down in the polls and he's wanting TV time."

Although the the U.S. Senators won't be participating, you can still watch their Republican opponents in live prime time interviews without commercial interruption on Sunday night starting at 7 p.m. live on 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS and on Hubbard Broadcasting stations from Rochester to Duluth. Then, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson will take part in a debate in the governor's race. They will be followed by Republican Doug Wardlow and Democrat Keith Ellison debating in the attorney general's race.



Tom Hauser

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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