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Campbell's strange debate strategy unlikely to pay off

There’s no mystery as to why Republican frontrunner for Louisiana’s Senate seat Treasurer John Kennedy may not enthusiastically wish to participate in a debate with his Democrat runoff counterpart Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. More curious is why Campbell seems not to want the joint appearance to come off as well.

With polling giving Kennedy a commanding lead in the Dec. 10 runoff election, he can fall back on the tried and true tactic of running out the clock. When in the situation that dynamics favor you and the only way to lose is to make some tremendous mistake, you limit your chances to make these, while not looking like you completely want to ignore campaign events.

By contrast, someone as deeply down as Campbell would want to emulate Democrat former Sen. Mary Landrieu, who as soon as she found out she fell well short of winning without a runoff against Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy in 2014, even though she led him narrowly in the general election she immediately asked for an absurd six debates in the month prior to the runoff. Cassidy laughed that off and they had one a few days prior to the final election where he blew her out.

Kennedy, for appearances sake, seemed amenable to two debates, with consortia of television stations. He didn’t appear interested in one with Louisiana Public Broadcasting that Campbell wanted, nor also one in front of the media in Baton Rouge this week. Campbell declined on one of the television station arrangements, but expressed interest on a Dec. 2 date with the other.

But then the one cued up for the common date foundered when the candidates disagreed over whether to have a live audience; Kennedy didn’t want it, Campbell did. When it became clear that, thusly, nothing would come off Campbell began complaining to anyone who would listen that Kennedy wished to duck debates.

Of course, that was a silly, if not hypocritical charge: Campbell himself had turned down one opportunity, and all he had to do was to agree not to have a live audience for another. Kennedy made a perfectly reasonable request there, not only because a previous debate of six candidates featured disruption before and after even without an audience, but also because in the wake of the election of Republican Pres.-elect Donald Trump, the political left has engaged in disruptive tactics that could find expression during the event, given the emphasis the Angry Left has made on supporting Campbell despite its misgivings over some of his issue preferences.

A debate would improve Kennedy’s electoral health only if viewers can see him in command, reinforcing his position in the polls. Further, since Campbell turned down one, Kennedy can equivalently claim Campbell shies away from debates and prefers uncritical forums by which to propagate his views, as indicated by the Democrat’s appearance on sympathetic media outlets like MSNBC.

Yet Campbell’s bizarre alleging explains why he would not acquiesce on the audience question, if he genuinely wanted to get Kennedy into a spot where the Republican could make a big unforced error: he calculates that he can get more political mileage with certainty out of making the false charge than with the possibility of hitting a home run courtesy of a Kennedy mistake during a debate. After all, the live audience question is absolutely trivial unless Campbell thought enough leftist disruptive elements could goad Kennedy into a gaffe, a mistake which seems unlikely that Kennedy would perform.

Therefore, Campbell prefers to manufacture an issue over debates – one that few, if any, voters not already committed to showing up and pressing the button for him will pay attention to, much less care about. But when you’re as far behind as he is, even if the payoff that you have a remote chance to achieve by acting alternatively could deliver the necessary boost to your chances, you’ll grasp at any straw.

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