LINCOLN, Nebraska -- It was just a tad surprising when Republican Deb Fischer turned down the chance to debate Democratic rival Bob Kerrey at the Cornhusker Boys and Girls State gathering in Lincoln.
Getting on stage with Kerrey this early in their race for the U.S. Senate would have given Fischer a chance to size up her far more experienced rival. And even if the outcome hadn't been particularly good for her ... so what? It's a long way from June to November.
Kerrey, who served one term as governor and two in the Senate, has offered one particularly worthwhile suggestion for the coming contest.
He has challenged Fischer to three Lincoln-Douglas style debates -- one in each congressional district. Kerrey wants a two-hour format in which the candidates would speak and ask each other questions.
The view from here: This debate format should be standard in every House, Senate and gubernatorial election. It takes the talking heads out of the equation and makes it more difficult for politicians to duck the issues by blabbering until their time runs out. And if it was good enough for Abe Lincoln ...
Kerrey has called for seven debates, the same number the Republicans held during their primary season.
At this stage, it seems Fischer's camp might content itself with letting endless advertising dollars do most of the talking, and Kerrey bashing.
This contest is going to be influenced by tens of millions of dollars in television and radio ads from both sides and obviously only a small fraction of that money will come from Nebraskans. It is virtually certain to be the most expensive-ever Nebraska political race. That's not surprising, since it is also one of the contests that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.
With Karl Rove and a bunch of super PACs pitching for Fischer, the tone of much of the advertising is a well established given. At this writing, they'd already spent some $260,000 for one anti-Kerrey ad that criticized him for saying some good things about the bank bailout that was supported by Republican President George Bush.
And even before Kerrey announced he would run (after he announced he wouldn't run) the GOP was on him like body odor because he had lived so many years in New York, serving as president of the New School university.
Kerrey wants debates that will let him get into topics like entitlement reforms, healthcare and foreign policy, contrasting his knowledge and experience with that of a state senator/rancher from the Sandhills.
If this were a prize fight, Kerrey would be cast in the role of the underdog slugger. He needs to score a lot of points. And Fischer's job would be obvious -- don't fight his fight. Just keep jabbing and jabbing ... and stay away from him. He's scored a lot of knockouts.