If anyone wants to know why there’s only one Maryland gubernatorial debate before the Nov. 6 election, look no further than the new poll from Goucher College.
It shows Gov. Larry Hogan with a 22-point lead over challenger Ben Jealous.
For those thinking, “Polls? Who believes in polls anymore, since all the presidential polls showed Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump, and we know how that election turned out” – for those thinking such thoughts…well, keep on dreaming.
The Goucher numbers pretty much reflect earlier polls during this campaign season, which in turn reflect polling across the last couple of years. In general, Hogan’s popularity has been steady and strong, even among Democrats.
A 22-point lead is remarkable in its own right. But the spread’s even more impressive considering Maryland has only elected one other Republican governor since Spiro Agnew half a century ago.
Politically, Hogan’s played it pretty much down the middle. He’s avoided the taint of Donald Trump’s excesses, and he’s avoided the kind of petty fights Maryland’s previous Republican governor, Robert Ehrlich, took on, which later led to Ehrlich becoming the only sitting governor in all of America who failed to get re-elected back in 2007.
So Hogan heads into the last six weeks before the election in very good shape, which is why there will only be one public debate. That’s scheduled for Sept. 24 and can be seen on Maryland Public Television.
The idealists among us always decry the lack of such meetings, as though we’re anticipating replays of Lincoln versus Douglas. We tell ourselves debates are good for democracy. We imagine airings of the great issues of the day.
But then, invariably, whether to meet the demands of TV coverage or the dwindling attention spans of voters, the sponsors of these debates create formats limiting the candidates to time constraints barely longer than a sound bite.
And we wind up hearing clichés, and instinctively we judge the candidates based on party affiliation, or appearance, or who committed the most laughable blunder of the evening.
So if you’re still wondering why there’s only one gubernatorial debate before November, ask yourself this: If you had a 22-point lead, would you want to risk it? Particularly when you’re a Republican, and you serve in a Democratic state, and your opponent is still pretty much an unknown figure with Election Day looming?
Hogan could have avoided debating altogether, and it probably wouldn’t cost him a single vote.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.