(FOX 9) - Republican governor candidate Scott Jensen alleges that DFL Gov. Tim Walz is avoiding debates in this year's Minnesota governor's race, while Walz says the pace of scheduling debates isn't unusual.
Jensen initially accused Walz of canceling debates, a claim he has since backed off from. Now, Jensen asserts that Walz is "ducking debates" because Walz hasn't agreed to any additional events after the pair squared off at FarmFest on Aug. 3.
"A studio would be fine. Audience would be fine. State Fair would be fine. Chamber of Commerce would be fine. Game Fair would be fine. We’ve said yes to all those traditional venues. Gov. Walz said no," Jensen said in an interview this week.
When a reporter asked Walz this week why he hadn't agreed to debate Jensen at the State Fair, the first-term governor gave a brief answer.
"We’ve debated already. We’ll set the dates going forward on this," Walz said. "We just want to make sure we have the broadest audience to be able to do these. Nothing out of the ordinary. We’ll agree to do them. Plenty of time -- it's August."
‘Out of the ordinary’
Walz's claim that there is "nothing out of the ordinary" is not the whole story.
The 2022 debate schedule is not keeping pace with Walz's first run for governor in 2018. Walz hasn't agreed to some debates he previously participated in, including one at Game Fair in Ramsey and another at Minnesota Public Radio's State Fair booth.
By the end of August 2018, Walz had done four general election debates with Republican Jeff Johnson when the two were campaigning for an open seat.
Walz said earlier this month that he expects to do "a couple" debates before the Nov. 8 election with Jensen, who is calling for one debate per week.
Traditional debate venues
Jensen's assertion that Walz is avoiding "traditional" debates needs clarification. Minnesota governor's races don't follow a pre-determined debate schedule. While the State Fair has been a traditional stop, a debate there isn't a guarantee.
Walz and Johnson ultimately did six general election debates in 2018, including a late August meeting at the fair.
Four years earlier, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said no to a State Fair debate that Johnson was seeking. He and Johnson eventually debated five times, all in October.
In 2010, Dayton and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer did a whopping 26 debates, averaging more than one per week as they campaigned for an open seat. One of those debates was at the fair.
An incumbent's strategy
Additional debates are a method for Jensen to introduce himself to general election voters.
Jensen, a family physician from Chaska and former state senator, lacks Walz's campaign cash. This week, Jensen told FOX 9 his campaign will start running television ads in September, several weeks after Walz and DFL-aligned groups.
Walz is also the incumbent, meaning he can do things like news conferences with state troopers and police chiefs -- as he's done three times since late July -- which are official events that have obvious benefits to his campaign.
The incumbent advantage plays out across the country, and it's not just a strategy employed by one party or the other. In some states like Minnesota, it's the Republican challenger accusing the Democratic incumbent of hiding. In other states, it's the reverse.
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