Tonight, voters in the 1st Congressional District will have a rare chance to evaluate the three candidates for the seat all at once. At 8 p.m., WGBY will broadcast a debate among the candidates competing in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary: Bill Shein, Andrea Nuciforo and incumbent U.S. Rep. Richie Neal. Whoever wins the primary will go on to take the seat, as there are no Republicans or third-party candidates in the race.
(I’m especially curious to see how moderator Jim Madigan and the candidates handle the revelation earlier this month that Nuciforo’s campaign lifted large portions of his position papers from other campaigns, and his scrambling, deer-in-the-headlights response after Shein revealed that alleged plagiarism.)
Why is tonight’s debate such a rare opportunity? Because Neal has declined to participate in a number of previously scheduled debates, despite the fact that they were planned during the Congressional break.
There’s no real incentive for Neal to take part in the debates (you know, other than that whole healthy-democracy thing); an entrenched and well-funded incumbent, his strategy seems to be avoiding having a spotlight trained on his record and hoping most voters aren’t even paying attention to the race—with the exception, that is, of his most loyal base of supporters, who will come out dutifully to cast their votes for him.
Nuciforo and Shein, meanwhile, both have criticized Neal for dodging the debates. In an email to supporters, Nuciforo called Neal’s decision “disappointing, but not a surprise” and directed backers to an on-line petition asking the incumbent to reconsider.
“The Congressman has spent years working to deregulate Wall Street, outsource American jobs and block the creation of a single-payer health care system. With a record like that, it’s no surprise that Congressman Neal is trying so hard to prevent voters from learning more,” Nuciforo wrote.
Shein, meanwhile, reiterated one of the major themes of his campaign: that good proposals—rather than, say, big war chests stuffed by corporate donors— should decide elections.
“Look, I believe ideas and candidates should sink or swim on the merits,” Shein wrote. “And I believe that reclaiming our democracy means providing meaningful interaction between candidates, officeholders, and the public. At those kinds of events, is it possible that sometimes I’ll get a question I don’t like or don’t have an answer to? Sure. Might I slip up and say something dumb or wrong? Yep. And might there be ‘plants’ from other campaigns in the audience sent to embarrass me? Probably. … This all goes with the territory. I believe we can and must have constructive dialogue and an exchange of ideas and opinions if we’re to live up to our democratic ideals.”
Shein is planning to hold campaign “town hall” events to replace the cancelled debates. That includes a stop at the Westfield Athenaeum, on Tues., Aug. 28, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Shein also took the opportunity to note his support for a non-partisan Citizens Debate Commission for presidential campaigns, which would strip the two big parties of the power to set the rules for debates.