Mike Rounds just cannot rise to the challenge of taking advantage of every opportunity to debate his opponents. And neither, apparently, can he and his campaign rise to the challenge I posed a few days ago when I asked them to identify the "scheduling conflict" they deemed important enough to blow off Sioux Falls TV station KSFY's debate on September 10. Given that Rounds is asking me and every other South Dakotan to hire him as our U.S. Senator for the next 6 years, I think as a prospective employer I'm being reasonable enough. He claims he can't meet with me and my fellow South Dakotans in a format where I can compare him in real-time to the other applicants for the job because he has something more pressing on his schedule. I'd like to know just what's so important that he's skipping this joint job interview. The comment section here is open for an answer.
Meantime I note that Rounds has also skipped out on a September 12 debate at the United Tribes Technical College in Rapid City. His excuse this time is actually quite revealing. After claiming that the date doesn't work, Rounds spokesman Ron Skjonsberg told Native Sun News, "I still don't think a debate is the best venue for a two-way conversation on these issues. Instead my offer for a one-on-one, the students and your staff, stands. We can accomplish what you seek with a conversation, I believe." This is a fatuous claim, on two levels. First off, how do Skjonsberg and Rounds presume to know what the Indian community and its students "seek?" This is an unwitting disclosure of political condescension, disingenuously claiming the campaign knows what is best for the sponsors of the debate. Secondly, the debate was scheduled for a reason: Its sponsors and attendees want to see the candidates live, interacting with each other, giving off their thoughts in a format that is intentionally stressful--somewhat like the confrontational challenges that occur on the floor of the United States Senate or in its meeting rooms when collisions of power, philosophy and economic interest demand toughness and composure. How best to measure those qualities than in the battleground of a live debate?
I suppose you could make the case that as front-runner, Rounds has much to lose and little to gain in these debates, so it's politically smart to avoid them as much as possible. Unfortunately for Rounds, it's becoming apparent that the political calculation is one of necessity, not general strategy. The Rounds campaign is festooned with charges and questions coming out of the EB-5/Northern Beef fiasco that occurred during his watch as Governor. No doubt the matter will come up during the course of the two debates with state-wide coverage he's limited himself to, so for now, as far as Rounds is concerned, less is more. What they actually fear, of course, is that where exposure to Rounds in debate mode is concerned, more is less, much less.