The Strickland/Brown & Kasich/Taylor campaign just issued a joint statement announcing that there will be two gubernatorial debates:

  • Sept. 14: Columbus
  • Oct. 7: Toledo

The debates are organized by a consortium of Old Media:

Newspapers included in the consortium are The Akron Beacon Journal, The Canton Repository, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, The Dayton Daily News, The Toledo Blade and The Youngstown Vindicator.

They will be televised locally with feed provided to the rest of the State.  This is half the number of debates we had in 2006.  No word on format.

In 2002, Bob Taft debated Bob Hagan three times.  I’m pretty sure there was more than two debates in 1998, which included the minor party candidates.

Despite having ballot access, none of the “minor” party candidates were invited to participate in the debates. 

To date, no public polling has actually included the minor party candidates.  Given the comments with gun rights forums and the “Tea Party” phenomenon, Libertarian candidate Ken Matesz, may do better than expected as  gun rights voters protest the Republican’s nomination of John Kasich.  Dennis Spisak, the prolific Strickland basher who posts regularly @ ProgressOhio, and Green Party candidate has also not been invited to participate.

Now, there are completely reasonable reasons to exclude Matez and Spisak as there is very little doubt neither one of them has a realistic shot at winning.  Neither has raised any significant money to communicate a message that can reach a large number of voters.  They don’t seem to be campaigning much at all, let alone much outside of their local communities. (Matesz’s campaign website lists only two days at the Ohio State Fair as his only event in August, which is more than Dennis Spisak lists which is none.)

With no evidence that these candidates have an air or ground game to speak of, it’s kind of hard to justify putting them on the same stage with the two major party candidates who are hitting the road and the airwaves already.

However, what good is ballot access without debate access?  In 2008, despite being only as listed as “Independents”  the Libertarian candidate got 1.8% of the vote to the Green Party candidate’s 1%.  I have every reasons to believe that listing their minor party status is likely going to cause them to inherently get more votes, particularly for Matez.

After all the 1998 inclusion of minor party candidates (who were listed on the ballots as Independents) in the debates resulted in the Natural Law candidate getting nearly 2% of the vote, and the Reform Party candidate getting over 3% of the vote.

If there’s any candidate who would be more concerned about sharing the stage with the third-party candidates, it would be Kasich because sharing the stage with Matez could turn Matez into a “spoiler” in what everyone is predicting will be a down to the wire gubernatorial bid.

I have to admit that I’m torn on this issue.  I understand the idea that we should devote what limited time we have to have a debate on the only candidates who have a realistic shot at being Governor.  On the other hand, what kind of progress have we made if we give minor party candidates ballot access, but not media access?  How much should the media give candidates like Spisak and Matez “free media” attention if they don’t even seem to be campaigning much in Ohio beyond their personal computers?  Given that the best a third-party candidate who was included in a debate was 3%, does that make the argument against  including candidates who can only serve as “spoilers?”

It seems like we constantly have this debate, but I’m not sure we’ve ever gone anywhere with it.