Why Tennessee Republicans are dodging debates and ghosting their opponents this election

October 14, 2022

Since 1960, televised debates have become a staple in US elections. That was the year when presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in their first of four televised debates. But that tradition is starting to fade. In Middle Tennessee, there are currently no debates scheduled for any of the congressional races or the governor’s race.  

Republican Gov. Bill Lee and Democrat Jason Martin are going head-to-head in this fall’s gubernatorial race, but they have yet to meet face to face. At an appearance last week, Martin made it clear he’s eager to do so. 

“Gov. Bill Lee, I hope you’re listening. I think the people of Tennessee deserve an opportunity to have a discussion about your record, a respectful discussion about what we can do better in this state,” Martin said...

This isn’t a new trend; incumbents have skipped debating in previous elections. But George Washington University political science professor Ethan Porter thinks it’s a strategy based on unfounded fears.

“They seem to believe that the debates are make or break. That’s rarely the case. Although, I suppose sometimes it can be,” said Porter.

Porter says, while it’s rare, some candidates have made big news by their mistakes during a live debate. 

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