CHICAGO – The candidates for Illinois governor agreed to three traditional debates ahead of November, but Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner bickered Wednesday about the number and what constituted a debate.
What was clear was that both candidates locked into one of the nation’s most competitive gubernatorial races confirmed appearances at three debates ahead of the Nov. 4 contest: Oct. 9 in Peoria, hosted by PBS and the League of Women Voters; Oct. 14 with the Chicago Urban League; and another later in October, hosted by the League of Women Voters and Chicago’s WLS-TV.
But Rauner’s campaign insisted it agreed to eight “debates and forums” releasing a list Wednesday that included a Chicago Tribune endorsement session and a Metropolitan Planning Council event where organizers said Quinn and Rauner would give separate speeches and not appear side by side.
“We’re doing a diverse collection of groups and forums,” Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “We’re doing eight debates and forums, [more than] twice as many as the president of the United States.”
The move prompted criticism from Quinn’s campaign, which this month said the Chicago Democrat confirmed eight forums and debates. Quinn called on Rauner to “come out of the gopher hole” and debate him, including those hosted by The Daily Herald, and Chicago’s WMAQ and WTTW. Campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Wednesday that Quinn had since confirmed three more debates.
“In limiting the number of debates to a paltry three, he is hiding from a transparent airing of his views and plans for Illinois,” she said of Rauner.
Political experts say debates aren’t generally shown to influence voters much. But they can generate media coverage – when a candidate makes a gaffe, for example – and may energize donors.
“It can create an environment in which a candidate’s credibility is measured,” said Alan Gitelson, a Loyola University political science professor.
The number of gubernatorial debates in Illinois has differed.
In 2010, there were five between Quinn and Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, along with two closed-door sessions before business groups. However, debates were scarce in 2006, when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich beat Republican Judy Baar Topinka for a second term. They debated once on a Chicago news program and participated in a debate broadcast on radio stations.
The number between Quinn and Rauner is below the four-way GOP primary where Rauner participated in seven. Quinn didn’t debate his March primary challenger, Tio Hardiman.
Quinn’s campaign said the governor wasn’t invited to some of the events Rauner listed and that others such as the Tribune session shouldn’t be characterized as debates even though Quinn was participating.
Rauner’s campaign countered that the Tribune event would be streamed online, but declined to discuss details on others or if more were forthcoming.
Still, the number of televised debates in Chicago – Illinois’ largest media market – did surprise some, including Phil Ponce, host of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. Over the years, it’s been common for candidates to debate for the last time before Election Day on the show. Rauner did so ahead of the primary, as did Quinn and Brady in 2010.
“It’s a tradition that we’re proud of,” Ponce said. “We’re hopeful that this is not the final list.”