BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Since the two presidential candidates first took the stage in front of a national TV audience, the debates have been a staple of American politics.
“If someone wants to represent a constituency, they should be able to talk about those issues alongside their opponent and really contrast their two positions,” said Democratic analyst Neel Sannappa.
This election year, we’ve seen candidates in some of the nation’s most high-profile races take the podium, such as Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) in the Georgia Senate race. However, later, Walker did not appear in a different debate. Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs declined to fully debate her opponent, Kari Lake (R).
In Kern, we saw it first hand.
“Californians in general see this,” GOP candidate running for the 16th state Senate District David Shepard said, pointing to an 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 ads and leaving his GOP opponents, David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Shepard, on the debate stage next to an empty podium.
Another Democratic candidate declined our debate invitation, Leticia Perez (D), who was running for the 35th State Assembly District.
“At the end of the day, politics is very much a numbers game,” Sannappa said.
Sannappa explained that debate decisions are often about political calculation, with campaigns maneuvering behind closed doors, deciding whether a candidate has more to win or lose than facing his opponent on stage.
“If the polls show you’re doing very well, sometimes people will advise you, and sometimes the candidates themselves will feel they don’t need to put themselves out there,” Sannappa said.
Republican analyst Cathy Abernathy agrees that often consultants or strategists advise candidates not to debate, but says it should send a message.
“That should tell voters something: Why can’t we see this person without the cover of the PR company that designs their ads?” Abernathy said.