August 21, 2006

C.U. to Host Debate For Governor Race

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Cornell will host a debate between Elliot Spitzer and John Faso for governor of New York on Tuesday, Sept. 26, as well as a possible senatorial debate, according to Blaine Friedlander, Cornell News Service. The debate is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of New York State and Time Warner Cable news channels. The League is sponsoring debates throughout the state for several different elections.

The debate between the Democratic and Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate may be held at Cornell as well, although some of the potential candidates have yet to confirm their attendance, according to Kris Hansen, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State.

The gubernatorial debate will be held in Bailey Hall at 7 p.m. According to Friedlander, entrance will be free and a large portion of the tickets will be available to students. Ticket distribution will be announced some time in the next two weeks. The debate will air live on News 10 Now in Ithaca, as well as in the rest of the state.

“We are New York’s land grant university, and it is more than appropriate for us to conduct this public service and hold this debate,” Friedlander said of the gubernatorial debate.

The debate will likely be moderated by either a Cornell professor or someone from the local media, such as the Syracuse anchor for NY1, according to Hansen. There will be around four panelists asking questions, consisting of students and reporters.

The organization Mock Elections will be the “student liaison” for the debates, according to co-Chairman Herbie Ziskend ’07. Mock Elections was founded two years ago leading up to the 2004 election “to increase awareness of the elections and get out the vote on campus,” Ziskend said. They were involved in a variety of activities in 2004, including bringing in speakers, registering voters, and the debate for Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s seat in the Senate, and they plan to continue those activities for this election season.
“Two years ago Mock Elections was very successful in running the debate between Schumer and Mills … now its going to be more challenging because it’s a midterm non-presidential year,” Ziskend conceded, but then added that “The debate is at a university [so] the students should be involved.”

“We will be setting things up, taking care of some logistics, and I believe we will be selecting the student panelists to ask questions,” Ziskend said.
However, he continued, saying Mock Elections’ exact role in the debates is not yet final.

“We want a good substantive debate about the issues, … and we want students to come,” Ziskend said.

The League of Women Voters was enthusiastic about the debates as well.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to move forward with [this] gubernatorial debate and are very excited to work with Cornell, Time Warner and NY1. I think it’s going to be a very informative, thrilling debate. I really think it is going to be something everyone should watch,” Hansen said.

The League of Women Voters has yet to receive conformation from potential nominees Spencer (GOP) and Clinton (Dem) to attend the senatorial debate. McFarland (GOP) and Tasini (Dem) have agreed to come, according to Hansen.
William O’Reilly, representative for the McFarland campaign said, “Ms. McFarland wants as many debates as possible, whether she is leading in the polls or not. There are many serious issues to discuss, and voters deserve to know how their candidates propose to address them.”

The Clinton campaign did not respond to the Sun.

“We are trying to make [the senatorial debate] happen. It’s a process; it takes time,” Friedlander said.
Prof. Walter Mebane, government, who specializes in elections, expects both debates to be neither pivotal nor exciting. According to Mebane, generally only the presidential debates receive wide viewing.

“Usually the audience for a [non-presidential] debate is very small. Only the people who are already active in politics and paying attention will hear the debates. Because the first stage audience is basically activists many of them already have a lot of information about the candidates and have already made their mind up,” Mebane said.

Mebane said that while the debate itself will not swing large numbers of voters, the media reaction to the debate has a far greater potential to effect the election.

“Often what happens in a debate is less important than what the media says happens in the debate,” said Mebane, “that’s where especially the ‘gaff’ problem can come from, a candidate does something off hand or makes a misstatement, and by the time the news stories get finished with the candidate two days later, it’s a major deal.”

“This is often why leading candidates who are way ahead will refuse to debate and not participate,” Mebane continued, “because it’s just free attention for their less funded, less well known, maybe hopeless opponent. For the person who is ahead it’s a chance just to make mistakes.”
However, Mebane predicts that both Spitzer and Clinton, if she wins her primary, will take every precaution to avoid such a ‘gaff,’ leading to a somewhat dull debate.

“Both Hillary and Spitzer are beating there opponents by a mile, so it’s very unlikely that they will say anything that moves an inch from their previous statements. … Spitzer is very polished and professional, he’s not going to make any mistakes most likely, and [Clinton] is very experienced and very unlikely to say anything surprising,” said Mebane. “Their challengers will try and rattle them, and maybe the media or panel will take one side or the other, but it’s very unlikely to be informative about the front runners, [although] you may learn a lot about the challengers. … I think it’s most likely that nothing major will happen, but you never know.”
Mebane also cited the waning of Republican power as a further detriment to the trailing challengers.

“It’s an anti-Republican year nationally, so the Republican challenger challenging Hillary or the Republican running for governor has no momentum to pick up. They are going to have to try to avoid sounding like they support [President George W.] Bush on one hand, but they need to not alienate their Republican voters, who are probably going to stay home in droves anyway in this election … I think the context makes this a particularly uninteresting year from a point of view of the debates,” Mebane said.

Mebane expects that the potential senatorial debate will focus on abortion issues, presidential powers, education and the Middle East. He also predicts Clinton’s potential presidential run in 2008 could be raised to attack her.
In the gubernatorial debate, Mebane expects gay rights, taxes, education and judges to be major issues. He also expects Faso to attack Spitzer’s record as Attorney General.

“There will probably be issues about regulating Wall Street, as this is Spitzer’s claim to fame, or infamy, depending on who you are,” Mebane said, “There will probably be lots of little things about Spitzer’s record that [Faso] will try to bring up. Spitzer most likely will not engage in a negative campaign against the opponent as there is no point [because of his large lead]. He will just try and restate his positions and I’m sure he has stock lines on the major New York issues.”

According to an Aug. 7 Siena Research Institute poll, Spitzer has a 70% to 17% lead over Faso. From that same poll, Clinton has a 58% to 32% lead over Spencer and a 58% to 28% lead over McFarland.

“Something dramatic may happen, which is very unlikely, but the Democratic candidates are so far ahead … [that] I just don’t think [the debates] will effect the elections that much,” Mebane said.