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Debating the importance of debates in the 2022 midterms

(NewsNation) — The midterm elections are nearly here and for many candidates making their final push, the road to November includes the art of the debate.

Our nation has a long and storied history of debating.

Looking back, moments from a debate can make and sometimes break a campaign. There was a time when entire quotes from a debate even became iconic.

The presidential debate between then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon was nationally televised in black and white in 1960.

It’s a moment in time when technology changed the debate stage.

“People criticized Nixon, because he didn’t look very well,” said Sandra Pavelka, a political science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. “Obviously, he wasn’t a Kennedy.”

Radio listeners thought Nixon won the debate, while TV viewers favored JFK.

But Pavelka says debates are different now.

“They’re more polarizing because of the fact that they’re not debating. They’re talking over each other,” she said.


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Technology has also further changed the debate stage. In the social media era, debates have come down more to snapshots.

We remember the images of Donald Trump standing behind Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the fly in Vice President Mike Pence’s hair.

“Trump basically kind of stood behind her and hovered over her in kind of a glaring fashion and I thought that that was very intimidating,” Pavelka said.


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Pavelka said the opportunity for the voter to hear from the candidates is still vitally important for our democracy.

“We’re the voters, we should have that right,” she said. “It really shouldn’t be up to the candidates to say no. I think that’s actually rather juvenile and childish not to actually debate the person you’re running against politically.”

NewsNation is exclusively broadcasting live national candidate debates in battleground states, including the Texas governor’s debate, the Georgia Senate candidate’s debate and the debate between Pennsylvania Senate candidates John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Debate Night in America” will feature news and analysis from NewsNation’s team of experienced journalists, including George Will and Chris Stirewalt.