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I scream, you scream for more U.S. Senate debates

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We know, thanks to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s famous 2014 tweet, that Dairy Queen can be a good place for “u kno what.”

Does that include debates? Apparently not.

Grassley’s stance on debating his Democratic opponent, former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, has been about as solid as soft serve. The Republican agreed to a pair of debates, one on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program on Oct. 20 and another hosted by WHO radio in Des Moines Nov. 4.

Then, on Friday, Grassley pulled out of the “Iowa Press” debate and opted, instead, for an Oct. 19 debate in Sioux City broadcast on four TV stations in and around Iowa owned by Quincy Media Group. That includes KWWL-TV in our Cedar Rapids home market.

His campaign cited “format” issues with IPTV. That’s weird, since “Iowa Press” has had roughly the same format for decades. Decades during which Grassley has appeared repeatedly. Reporters, politicians, questions, repeat.

By Monday, Grassley’s camp was blaming Judge’s initial request that the IPTV debate be held in Davenport in the interest of geographic balance. But her camp long ago accepted a Des Moines location, so what’s the problem?

Judge, of course, has wanted more debates from the start, with hopes of putting a dent or two in the Grassley re-election freight train. She most recently called for debates in the parking lots of Dairy Queens in major Iowa media markets, moderated by retired “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor. I guess the Chatterbox Café is booked. And in Minnesota.

Grassley does love Dairy Queen, as evidenced by his curious tweet about the Windsor Heights location (see above) and the fact the ice cream joint appears in one of his TV ads. Unlike his wind energy ad, he does not claim to be the father of the Dilly Bar.

But his campaign let the Dairy Queen offer melt. Too bad. It would have been fun. Grassley could chow down on a Filibuster Parfait Supreme. Judge might have gone with an order of golden fries and a side of, judging by the polls, lots of catch up. OK, I’ll stop.

Grassley probably figures there’s not much reason to debate at Dairy Queen or any place else because his opponent is already licked. It’s the age-old strategy. If you’ve got a decent lead, there’s not much reason to create big moments where the train can be derailed. The Sioux City debate is an undercard for the third presidential debate that same evening. The WHO debate is just four days before Election Day. The early vote already is rolling in.

Still, Grassley should have stuck with the one statewide debate on his dance card. Nobody believes he’s really got a problem with IPTV’s format. It’s a ruse, with sprinkles.

Every statewide general election race should have a three-debate minimum, with some geographic diversity. Heck, Cedar Rapids hasn’t hosted a general election debate in a statewide campaign since 2010 when Chet Culver and Terry Branstad squared off at Coe College. Cedar Rapids hasn’t hosted a U.S. Senate debate since Greg Ganske and Tom Harkin in 2002.

It’s not that debates are monumentally valuable. Often, they’re dull as dirt. But they are among the only moments left in a modern campaign where candidates need to think on their feet and stray from their script. They’re also among the last remnants of the pre-Trumpian notion campaigns are for persuading voters, not just whipping up an outraged partisan parfait.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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