Tonight’s debate between the two leading candidates in the race for governor offers a chance for them to reinforce their message, but don’t expect it to change the minds of too many voters.
Incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke will appear together tonight in Eau Claire, for a debate that will be broadcast statewide. Marquette University Law School political scientist Charles Franklin says it’s a chance for the public to see the two candidates side-by-side, for the first time and “see how the two of them compare with one another, face to face, at the same time…something we’ve not seen at all in the campaign this year.”
Franklin says debates are often tightly prepared events, with both candidates practicing and preparing their responses well ahead of time. He doubts the debate will do little to change who many people plan to vote for, in a race that has seen both candidates within a few points of each other in recent polls. “An awful lot of the time, the debates reinforce what people believe when they come to them. They see their guy doing well, they see the other guy doing poorly, and so it tends to stabilize opinions,” Franklin says.
The exceptions, Franklin notes, are when something unexpected happens during a debate that catches a candidate off-guard or when the performance of a participant falls short of expectations. He points to the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney in 2012, where Obama was quiet and Romney came across as on point and confident, leading many to argue that the GOP nominee won the debate.
Tonight’s debate is one of only two meetings for Walker and Burke ahead of the November 4 election, with the second next Friday in Milwaukee.