For political pros and insiders, the strategy of latching
onto a candidate’s refusal to debate his opponent has faded fast.
At the local level, chambers of commerce that previously held “Meet
the Candidates” events found that they were sparsely attended and mostly produced
trite speeches and talking points from the candidates. For about a decade, true
debates with hopefuls for state Senate, state House and countywide offices have
become increasingly rare.
So, it’s notable that in north Macomb’s 36th
District, the hottest (and nastiest, and most expensive) state House race in
Michigan, Pete Lucido, is right to the very end hammering away at his
Republican primary opponent, Stan Grot, over his unwillingness to debate him.
In the final days of the campaign, Lucido, a first-time
candidate has relentlessly complained that his numerous attempts to organize a legitimate
debate have failed.
When Grot, the Shelby Township clerk, failed to show up
for a July 21 face-to-face matchup
entirely arranged by Lucido — instead choosing to attend a party pep rally
with GOP precinct delegate candidates and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley — Lucido
proceeded with the event anyway, holding a town hall with (mostly) questions
posed from the audience by his supporters.
Of course, Lucido, a prominent attorney, says that Grot
is afraid to debate him. Grot, a veteran political operative, counters that his
opponent’s emphasis on the debate issue is a gimmick. But Grot, a former
Sterling Heights city councilman and Macomb County commissioner, has given
Lucido some unexpected ammunition.
Where the debate over debates left off is that Grot
proposed a Dec. 31 faceoff but he never followed up with a place or time or any
other details. As Lucido pushed, Grot sent a letter to his opponent last week
saying that a debate less than a week before the primary election would not be
productive because thousands of absentee voters had already cast their ballots.
Lucido pounced, asserting that Grot was only interested
in wooing a strategic slice of the electorate.
campaign managers who have a smooth candidate, an accomplished, articulate
public speaker, are eager to have a debate. Lucido told me on Friday that he is
willing to debate Grot even on Tuesday, Election Day, to give voters one last
chance to make up their mind.
When I asked Grot if his Polish accent, compared to
Lucido’s deep courtroom voice,
was a factor, he stopped me in mid-sentence and
said that his literature had plainly explained where he stands on the issues,
which is often to the right of his primary opponent.