Charles Zelden's take on Florida Senate race

Historians in the News

Political analyst Charles Zelden says the debate over debates in the Democratic Senate primary shows the candidates are hewing to the political script.

“Every major campaign does it. It’s almost like kabuki theater. You know the roles people are going to play. Basically there’s sort of a set role, set moves. It’s very stylized and that’s what we’re seeing here.”

Zelden is a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University.

It started with Jeff Greene challenging Kendrick Meek. “It’s what politicians who are behind do. If you are the challenger you challenge. Even when you know the answer is no for good reason you challenge and you say ‘I asked.’”

One legitimate reason Greene’s idea isn’t workable is Meek is a member of Congress, and the House will be in session for much of the time covered by the challenge.

Zelden said the ultimate resolution “depends almost exclusively on Meek’s situation.”

If Meek is ahead in the polls and feels he’s getting his message out, there won’t be too many debates, he predicted. If Meek is slipping, more debates are possible.

Frontrunners are always reluctant to debate. “They don’t want to give credibility or a platform to the opponent. They’ve basically got more to lose in the game.”

Lots of debates may sound good at first blush, but they’re not necessarily great for the democratic process and informing the public, he said.

“There’s only so much to argue about. They’ll come in and say the same thing,” Zelden said. “One good televised debate has more impact than five or six debates that only the people who show up hear.”

The reason the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates, between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas involved seven meetings, Zelden said, is they had a large state without electronic mass media....

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