Schedule that debate

October 10, 2002

PERHAPS THE candidates for governor of Maryland would rather fine-tune their get-out-the-vote apparatuses - but they're way ahead of the game. First they have to give voters more compelling reasons to visit the polls.

They can do that by agreeing to another debate.

Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democrat, ought to welcome an opportunity to display their grasp of issues before the widest possible audience.

It's time to end the tiresome discussions of why they can't agree on a time or format. Who-struck-John discussions of why debate talks have failed make both sides look foolish, weak and overly calculating. These discussions may be difficult and complex. So is running a $22 billion corporation, the state government of Maryland.

And, of course, a debate is easy enough to arrange: A League of Women Voters representative said yesterday that another list of potential debate dates will be sent to the candidates in a few days. Mr. Ehrlich and Ms. Townsend should then direct their staff negotiators to find one that is mutually acceptable.

The two candidates met Sept. 26 at Morgan State University, but too few Marylanders saw that energetic exchange. It focused on urban issues. Many more important areas remain to be explored.

The League of Women Voters spokesperson said the group's policy does not allow debates involving empty chairs - an option sometimes used when one side won't cooperate. Also, Maryland Public Television won't reserve time for a debate unless both sides agree in advance to participate.

Political considerations are, no doubt, a part of this equation. Ms. Townsend's partisans believe she performed exceptionally well at Morgan, and some in her camp may have concluded she has nothing to gain from another round.

But a Townsend spokesman said "of course" she would consider a new set of dates. Mr. Ehrlich's campaign said he, too, was prepared to choose a date.

So, let's have that list.

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