There may not be a head-to-head encounter between Joe Bock and the three other Democratic U.S. House hopefuls ahead of the May 6 primary.
Dan Morrison, one of the Democratic hopefuls, said Bock has so far rebuffed his calls for a debate. With the largest pool of campaign funding of the four Democrats and the backing of the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Bock, from South Bend, is the leading hopeful from the party.
Bock, for his part, indicated that he's focused on the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, who's seeking her second term in the post.
"The debate we are engaged in is against Congresswoman Jackie Walorski and the do-nothing Congress of which she is a part, that shut the government down and put our economy at great risk," Bock spokeswoman Jennifer Coffman said in a statement Monday, March 3. "The debate we are in is about economic fairness for all Hoosier families."
Morrison, from Elkhart, has put the debate question directly to Bock on three occasions, he had said earlier Monday. Bock didn't give a direct response the first time, at a January meeting of Elkhart County Democrats, but said no, he wouldn't debate, when Morrison asked him at a Feb. 22 event in Goshen. Bock also declined at a March 1 meeting of Democrats in St. Joseph County, Morrison said.
"If you can't debate in the primary or in the general election," Morrison said, "you don't deserve to be in Congress." Morrison, a Democratic hopeful for the 2nd District U.S. House seat two years ago as well, unsuccessfully sought a debate ahead of the primary that year against Brendan Mullen, the eventual Democratic winner.
'EVERYTHING TO LOSE'
St. Mary's College political scientist Sean Savage said Bock's apparent refusal to debate is no surprise. Front-runners in such situations typically have "nothing to gain from a debate and everything to lose," particularly if a face-off prompts divisiveness, he said.
But Morrison thinks a debate would give voters the he opportunity to size up the Democratic hopefuls, side by side.
Aside from Morrison and Bock, the Democratic U.S. House contenders include Bob Kern of Indianapolis, a paralegal, and Douglas Carpenter, an unemployed man from South Bend who focuses on caring for his elderly mother.
WNIT, the public television station, plans to air a televised debate of the Democratic contenders on the April 6 edition of the program Politically Speaking. Three of the hopefuls have said they'll take part, program moderator Elizabeth Bennion said in an email, and program reps "still hope that Bock will join us."
In response to questions about Bock's willingness to debate, Bennion, also an Indiana University South Bend political science professor, said public forums, broadly speaking, offer voters a way to compare hopefuls.
"We believe that electoral politics should not be about who can raise the most money, but about who has the strongest vision for the future and best policy proposals for the district," Bennion said. "Voters cannot adequately or easily compare the candidates on their ballot based on sound bites or direct mail. There is no better way for voters to quickly gather useful information about candidate differences than to compare them side-by-side in a debate format."