Sunday, June 11, 2000

Talk about an early heat

Congressional debates could wilt in July warmth

        In July, Republican incumbent Steve Chabot and Democratic challenger John Cranley, running in the 1st Congressional District, will hold their first debate. Why they will be holding it is not entirely clear.

        Most good Americans — and the 1st District is chock-full of them — will have probably have other things on their minds in mid-July besides who will represent them in the U.S. House.

        Like whether the Reds can sweep the Tigers at Comerica Park. Like wheth er charcoal burns faster if you squirt a whole bottle of lighter fluid on it. Like whether it is hot enough to fry eggs on the driveway. Like trying to get yourself invited by the guy down the street with the pool in his back yard.

        Important stuff like that.

        Not that congressional elections aren't important. Nosirree Bob, they sure are.

        It's just that we're not used to hearing from our congressional candidates until some time after Labor Day.

        This time of year, most congressional candidates are busy raising money and keeping out of the line of fire, prepping themselves for the fall campaign season.

        But not these two. This past week, their campaigns worked out a schedule of four monthly debates between now and the Nov. 7

        election. The first is July 16; and it is highly likely that it will be the earliest head-to-head meeting of Republican and Democratic candidates in a congressional campaign this year.

        When the two sides met last Tuesday, the original agreed-upon date for a first debate was Sunday, July 23. That sounded fine, until it was pointed out to both sides that Sunday, July 23, was also the day three Cincinnati legends — Tony Perez, Sparky Anderson and Marty Brennaman — would be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

        Chances are the Cincinnati media will be somewhat preoccupied that day and more likely to be in Cooperstown than Cheviot. The good people of the 1st District might like to watch the ceremonies on ESPN, too.

        The debate thing, naturally enough, was the idea of Mr. Cranley, a 26-year-old first-time candidate who needs all the exposure he can get if he is to catch up with an incumbent who is heading into his third decade of being a congressman, county commissioner or city councilman.

        Mr. Chabot, also naturally enough, accepted. Two years ago , when his opponent was Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, it was Mr. Chabot offering the debate challenge — an unusual move for incumbent, who usually treat challengers with less respect than they do a valet parking attendant.

        Ms. Qualls hemmed and hawed a bit and finally agreed to some debates, although they didn't start until late August. In the meantime, the Chabot campaign spent about $25,000 on radio ads badgering Ms. Qualls about being a chicken.

        Young Mr. Cranley signed on the dotted line last Tuesday and got four debates, although he wanted at least 10, beginning in June, when even less people are paying attention.

        After agreeing to the four debates, he fired off a letter to Mr. Chabot accusing him of 57 varieties of duplicity for not giving the Democrat what he wanted.

        Mr. Cranley, who has a crew from MTV following him around and who knows something about rock 'n' roll, might take a page from the Stones: You can't always get what you want.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 768-8388 or email at


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