It looks like Ned Lamont won’t be debating Dan Malloy again later this month.
Lamont, who lost the increasingly meaningless endorsement of the Democratic convention in May but has been running ahead of Malloy in polls, is acting like someone who wants to get past the primary and move on to the main round.
This is a front-runner trick—don’t debate if you can help it. After all, Lamont and Malloy already debated once. The thing is, no one saw that debate, even though it was on TV. This debate would have been in front of 1,500 primary voters, the sort of people who A) go to debates instead of doing something interesting and B) are exactly the kinds of core activists whose opinions really matter in a race like this, so the stakes were significantly higher.
So why skip it?
The thing is, Lamont had everything to lose and almost nothing to gain. The debate would have been held close to the primary date, so Malloy likely would have been doing all he could to put a dent in Lamont’s lead. Malloy came on strong at the end of the 2006 primary election, and, with the help of a debate like this, might be in position to do so again this year (ironically, the person most likely responsible for Malloy’s loss that year was not John DeStefano, but Lamont—who happened to share a ballot line with Malloy’s opponent).
Plus, given the jabs the two have been trading lately, the debate probably wouldn’t have been all that friendly. If Lamont has an eye toward November, he won’t want to take any more damage than absolutely necessary in order to get by Malloy. It’s understandable, and the decision to skip it, despite the blowback Lamont will likely get from the Malloy camp and others, is probably the right one from a strategic point of view.
However, it may be the kind of decision that causes some Democrats to be a little uncomfortable. Debates are good things for many of the kinds of voters who turn out for primaries. They’re a part of the process and a good way for candidates to answer questions and draw contrasts between themselves and their opponents. It’s always a little off-putting when someone bows out of one, in the same way that it was somewhat off-putting when Lamont decided to forgo public financing, a program that is dear to many Democrats, in order to retain the monetary advantage over his opponent. It was the right decision, strategically. Lamont wants to win, and is willing to do what it takes.
It’s a window, albeit a very small one, on to what sort of governor Lamont might make.
It’s been difficult to figure that out, at least for me, and sometimes the way a candidate runs a campaign can give clues to how they’ll be once in office. The Obama campaign was intelligent, competent and leak/drama free, but prone to letting opponents beat them up without responding in any useful way until it was almost too late, sometimes breathtakingly tone-deaf, and an emotional roller-coaster for its supporters. There are parallels to the Obama administration, though admittedly the excitement among voters the campaign built didn’t always translate to strong support for the Obama’s presidency. The 2006 Rell campaign was tepid and disengaged, didn’t bring other Republicans along, and was never able to really figure out what it was all about. Joe Lieberman’s 2006 Senate run was nasty, mean and petty until he lost in the primary, after which he played nice with independents just long enough to get what he wanted. The list goes on.
Depending on one’s point of view, Lamont would either be a pragmatic and independent governor who is willing to ruffle feathers in his own party to accomplish his goals, or the kind of governor who was willing to compromise principles for short-term political gain.
In any event, he won’t be debating Dan Malloy again.
Chris Bigelow is the former owner/author of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.