BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Since the first time two presidential candidates took the stage in front of a national television audience, the debates have been a staple of American politics.
“If somebody wants to represent a constituency, they should be able to talk about these issues alongside their opponent and really juxtapose their two positions,” said Democratic analyst Neel Sannappa.
This election year, we’ve seen candidates in some of the nation’s most prominent races take to the podiums, like Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) in the Georgia Senate race. Yet later, Walker did not show up at a different debate. Democratic Arizona gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs declined to fully debate her opponent, Kari Lake (R).
At Kern, we saw it firsthand.
“California in general see this,” said GOP nominee for the state’s 16th Senate district, David Shepard, pointing to the empty podium for his Democratic opponent next to him.
Over the past two weeks, Democratic candidates Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) running in the 22nd Congressional District and Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) running in the 16th State Senate District, have dropped out of our debates at the eleventh hour, citing attack announcements and leaving their GOP opponents, David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Shepard, on the debate stage next to an empty podium.
Another Democratic candidate declined our invitation to the block debate, Leticia Perez (D), candidate for the 35th State Assembly district.
“At the end of the day, politics is really a numbers game,” Sannappa said.
Sannappa explained that debate decisions are often a matter of political calculation, with campaigns maneuvering behind closed doors, deciding whether the candidate has more to gain or lose by taking on their opponent on stage.
“If the poll says you’re doing very well, sometimes people will advise you and sometimes candidates will feel they don’t need to come forward,” Sannappa said.
Republican analyst Cathy Abernathy agrees it’s often consultants or strategists who advise candidates not to debate, but argues that should send a message.
“That should say something to voters: why can’t we see this person without the cover of a PR firm that designs their ads?” said Abernathy.