The power of debates to impact the outcome of an election is probably overstated. Voters who are already strongly in favor of one candidate or the other aren’t going to be swayed to think differently by what they see on stage, even if they happen to tune in that night.
Odds are more likely that they will see what they were already predisposed to see: that is, their candidate besting the other.
Debates are really about trying to win over the undecided, or those who may be leaning one way but are still persuadable.
In today’s highly polarized political climate, the percentage of voters who fall into these categories is small and steadily shrinking.
Thus, whether Mississippi gubernatorial candidates Tate Reeves and Jim Hood debate once, twice or three times, it probably won’t matter a whole lot come Nov. 5, when voters go to the polls.
However, an early winner in the debate over the debate is most definitely Hattiesburg, which will play host to an hour-long debate between Reeves and Hood on Thursday, Oct. 10, on the Southern Miss campus.
All eyes will be on Hattiesburg that night, which might make for an interesting evening of television when you consider neither Forrest County or Lamar County supported Tate Reeves in his runoff bid against former Chief Justice Bill Waller.
However, as out of touch as the lieutenant governor is with things, we wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even realize that important tidbit of information.
The jockeying between Reeves and Hood about where and when and if they will have additional debates is mostly an exercise in one-upmanship.
Interestingly, neither of them was all that crazy about debating during the primaries.
Since both were the perceived front-runners in their respective parties, they each saw little to gain from giving their lesser-funded opponents the free exposure that comes from debates.
Thus far, Reeves has agreed to do two debates. Hood agreed to three debates back in August. However, Reeves' debates and Hood's debates are not all the same debates and thus far, the Hattiesburg debate is the only one they have agreed on.
Hood says he’s fine with three debates, but he wants them to be spread out around the state — presumably so that more of the state’s TV audience will see at least one of them, since none of the local network affiliates covers the entire state. Reeves wants the debates to be earlier and now his campaign is accusing Hood of trying to wait as late as possible to prevent the media from having time to followup on any gaffes.
After some dickering, the two will probably settle on more than one face-off.
With the general election expected to be close, neither Reeves nor Hood can honestly say which might benefit the most from the free publicity that a debate can bring.