It should be fairly obvious by now, but those running for office in competitive, high-profile races shouldn’t skip debates. It’s bad. Ask Donald Trump. Ask our former senator, Kay Hagan.
According to the Cruz campaign, Trump’s decision to skip the last debate was a move that hurt him significantly. There comes a point where a candidate becomes just too unconventional for voters to stomach. Iowa voters saw the feud with FOX News and the subsequent skipping of the debate as another aspect of Trump’s circus-like candidacy.
Among late deciders, Trump did very poorly. And the reason for the “poll failure”? Most pollsters stopped going into the field after the debate. If they had, they may have seen some movement away from Trump. In the aftermath, Trump’s refusal to participate was seen by some as a brilliant tactical maneuver. It wasn’t.
Back in October 2014, Senator Kay Hagan made a similar error. The campaign participated in two fall debates with Tillis, but not a third. At the time, I figured that Hagan was so far ahead that she wanted to play it safe and not show up.
As it turns out, the internals of both campaigns showed a close race. Hagan was raked over the coals for skipping the debate in a month dominated by fears of ISIS and ebola. It made her look flippant. While I don’t think skipping the debate was responsible for her loss, you can be sure that it hurt her and gave Tillis the momentum in the final weeks.
So, just to repeat: if you’re a candidate running in a competitive, high-profile race, don’t skip a debate. It’s probably not a good idea. There are more than enough examples to back this up.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.