Obama and McCain Seek Modern-Day Lincoln-Douglas Debates: But Where?

by David Moon // Published May 14, 2008
With all eyes now shifting to this November's presidential election, Barack Obama and John McCain continued their song and dance about civil campaigning with hints of a coming series of joint campaign events. Bloomberg News reported:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he'd be willing to campaign jointly with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and debate him in town-hall style formats.

``I think that's a great idea,'' Obama, 46, told reporters in Bend, Oregon, today as he campaigned ahead of the state's May 20 primary. ``Obviously we would have to think through the logistics on that, but to the extent that should I, should I be the nominee, if I have the opportunity to debate substantive issues before the voters with John McCain, that's something that I am going to welcome.''

Obama, an Illinois senator, was responding to a question citing reports that McCain's advisers have suggested the two should campaign together this summer, debating at town hall meetings without a moderator.

Some (including me) are pretty excited by the prospect of a civil and substantive campaign, but what I'm even more excited about is the possibility that they might *gasp* hold their debates outside of the swing states. I thought we in the mid-Atlantic region got a treat when the Democratic presidential primaries actually mattered in our area, but I knew that once the general election came around, the candidates would not be stumping in Maryland or the District of Columbia.

As we've written about quite extensively, thanks to our winner-take-all Electoral College system, presidential candidates spend virtually all of their time and money in the handful of swing states like Florida and Ohio, while ignoring the rest of us. When your opponent is camped out in the swing states, it makes sense to do so also.

But, if there is a mutual disarmament via these joint campaign events, I would strongly urge the campaigns to include non-swing states in their town hall tour. This would be a rare opportunity to foster a national dialogue.

Granted, the candidates would likely continue spending the bulk of their dollars in the swing states, but at least we might see them stopping at Ben's Chili Bowl (a D.C. landmark) and engaging voters on much-ignored urban issues like gentrification, crime and subway extensions.

If the candidates take up my call, they'll prove themselves to be trying to be transformational and independent not only on policy and rhetoric, but on process, too.