Monday, September 11, 2006

Chattanooga Times Free Press: Corker Afraid To Debate

Even Bob Corker's hometown newspaper which recently endorsed him (Free Press page) is now saying he is afraid to debate Harold Ford Jr. and is calling on Corker debate the Congressman on Meet the Press:

Bob Corker’s refusal to accept NBC’s invitation to engage in a nationally televised debate with U.S. Rep. Harold Ford on the popular Sunday "Meet the Press" news program is disappointing. It also is surprising: It clearly suggests that Mr. Corker is afraid Rep. Ford would outshine him and cost him support and standing in the polls before the November election. There is no other way to view his refusal to debate his opponent.

That’s a huge hit for Mr. Corker to invite. And given all the excellent reasons why he should be glad to seize the opportunity to debate Rep. Ford in a nationally televised forum, it’s the wrong decision. It’s also wrong for the interests of Tennessee’s voters.

The Republican and Democratic candidates in six other high-profile Senate races across the country have agreed to debates on "Meet the Press." The first of the series, featuring the two candidates for the open Senate seat for Pennsylvania, aired last Sunday. Senatorial candidates from Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota and Maryland will debate in coming Sundays.

Rep. Ford promptly agreed to the debate, and it’s not too late for Mr. Corker to commit. Rep. Ford rightly noted that "it’s a little embarrassing" that the Tennessee race would not be included in the series. That’s an understatement.

If he were more courageous, Mr. Corker could use the debate to introduce himself to citizens across the country. He would, after all, represent all Americans if he became one of this nation’s 100 senators. The national exposure could generate confidence in his leadership potential, and it could prompt donations for his campaign, as well. Of course, a good performance also would boost his standing among Tennessee voters immediately.

Conversely, by refusing the debate, Tennesseans can assume only that he is afraid of such a high-profile duel with Rep. Ford and question his ability.

That possibility speaks volumes about Mr. Corker’s character, ability and willingness to stand up and engage his opponent on the issues that Tennesseans surely care about. If he won’t go head-to-head with Mr. Ford and defend his and his party’s positions on this nation’s most pressing problems — unfair tax policies, Republican-built debt, increasingly unaffordable health care, an Iraq war with no exit strategy, job outsourcing and stagnant wages — why should voters be inclined to believe he knows how to remedy those problems, or to vote for him?

Certainly Rep. Ford, whose long-held centrist positions parallel those of most Tennesseans, is willing and eager to debate. He often has said he stands ready to debate Mr. Corker anywhere on 12 hours’ notice. "Voters deserve a chance to see us stand side by side answering the challenging questions from the voters," Rep. Ford correctly asserts.

Mr. Corker cannot fall back on the lame excuse given by his campaign manager, Ben Mitchell, that he wanted to devote more time in Tennessee being with voters and hearing their concerns. With a quick trip to NBC’s studios, he easily could reach a vast audience of Tennesseans to reveal his skills and positions.

Neither can Mr. Corker pretend that the three regional debates — in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga — to which he agreed are adequate for the Senate race. Those will be aired by local stations, and most Tennesseans will be unable to see any of them.

Mr. Corker must be afraid that just calling Rep. Ford a liberal — as he continually does in his paid advertising — wouldn’t fill out a nationally televised debate very well. We already know that his positions merely track the national Republican talking points — i.e., more tax cuts for the wealthy, more staythe-same-quagmire-course in Iraq. What we don’t know is how Mr. Corker would handle the pressure of give-and-take on those issues in a nationally televised debate.

A U.S. senator ought not to be afraid of such a challenge. So, c’mon, Bob. Agree to the debate.

Give the people want they want Bob! Debate Congressman Ford. He is ready to defend his record and promote his vision. Why aren't you?

Maybe because you have no record to defend and no vision to fight for.

It's time for a change.