Let the debates begin

Fewer than one out of 10 voters cast ballots in Lynn and surrounding communities where preliminary elections were held on Tuesday, setting the stage for final elections on Nov. 7 in Lynn, Malden, Medford, Peabody, Revere and Saugus.

Candidates who survived Tuesday’s voting spent Wednesday dusting themselves off and rallying and regrouping supporters for an eight week-long push that will be defined by door knocking, campaign literature drops, political signs sprouting like spring flowers and, it is hoped, spirited and informative debates.

Debates are politics distilled down to the purest essence with candidates facing off and explaining who they are and what they stand for. As anyone who has watched a presidential debate knows, the hours spent under the hot lights and in front of microphones turn more often than not on one remark — witness the late Ronald Reagan skewering Jimmy Carter in a 1980 debate with “… there you go again” or Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 declaring to Dan Quayle, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Debates potentially provide the opportunity for candidates to state their positions on important local issues and to stake out high ground on an issue that could prove insurmountable to their opponent.

They are also an opportunity for voters to assess and weigh a candidate’s personality, temper and listening skills. Political signs and campaign literature can drive home catchphrases and underscore the key issues a candidate is focused on. But debates sharply define — often with a handful of words — the candidate’s personality.

There isn’t a candidate born who underestimates the power of a debate. Political newcomers who may not be able to match an incumbent’s spending power see debates as game-changing opportunities to level the political field and energize supporters.

Incumbents who know they may be wearing out their welcome with voters after years in office seize on debates as an opportunity to employ a well-turned phrase and an appeal to nostalgia to win one more election.

Candidates know debates matter and they sweat every detail involved in a debate including the order of candidates’ opening and closing statements; whether candidates sit or stand and the wording of questions.

They know what every voter should know — especially the roughly 90 percent who did not bother to vote on Tuesday — debates expose for better or worse the person behind the politician. The power of debates to make politics personal is why it is so important debates are held locally during the next eight weeks and why it is even more important for people to attend debates.

Voting still requires an act of conscious commitment to the political process by people who have to go to polling places and contemplate their candidate choices before filling out a ballot. Debates require a similar level of civic participation with voters sitting through an hour or more of discourse.

Politics at all levels of government may become the domain of social media with its incessant demand for instant gratification, but politics in its truest form is an exercise of people engaging people and debates have always been the most insightful forum for that engagement.

Let the debates begin.

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