Clinton Challenges Obama to a ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ Debate

By Dotcomabc

Apr 26, 2008 4:57pm

ABC News’ Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller report: The Hillary Clinton campaign has challenged Sen. Barack Obama to a debate with no moderators, in the spirit of Lincoln-Douglas.

Speaking in South Bend, Ind., Sen. Clinton said, “What I think the people in Indiana deserve is a real one-on-one debate, where Sen. Obama and I discuss [the] issues. Now I have accepted the debates that have been offered, and in fact Indiana has a debate commission which organizes this to make sure it’s fair and nobody gets any special advantages. I’ve said I’ll be anywhere, anytime in order to debate, because I think the people of Indiana — after having wandered in the wilderness of American politics for 40 years — deserve a break. Who knows, we might even carry Indiana in the fall if we start with a good debate right here."

Clinton continued, “Unfortunately, Sen. Obama has not agreed yet, and he’s turned down every debate that has been offered. So here I have a proposition my campaign sent his campaign today. You know, after the last debate in Philadelphia, Sen. Obama’s supporters complained a little bit about the tough questions (awwwwwww heard in the audience). You know tough questions in a debate are nothing compared to the tough questions you get when you are president.”

Clinton challenged Obama, saying, “And they complained about the moderators asking tough questions. So here is my proposal: I’m offering Sen. Obama the chance to debate me one-on-one, no moderators.  Just the two of us going for 90 minutes asking and answering questions. We’ll set whatever rules seem fair. I think it would give the people of Indiana — and I assume a few Americans will tune in because nearly 11 million watched the Philadelphia debate, and I think they would like seeing that discussion. Remember that’s what happened during the Lincoln and Douglas debates. Now we have had like four debates between Sen. Obama and myself.”

Robert Gibbs, communications director for Obama’s campaign, responded to Clinton’s debate challenge Saturday afternoon in a paper statement.

"We have participated in 21 nationally televised debates, the most in primary history, including four exclusively with Sen. Clinton. Sen. Clinton refused an earlier invitation that had been accepted to debate in North Carolina. Over the next 10 days, we believe it’s important to talk directly to the voters of Indiana and North Carolina about fixing our economy, cutting the cost of health care and ending a war in Iraq that never should have been authorized in the first place," Gibbs said.

Here is the letter that Clinton’s campaign sent to the Obama campaign:

April 26, 2008
David Plouffe, Campaign Manager
Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680

Dear David:
The attention, excitement and energy around this presidential election is unprecedented. The stakes could not be higher for our country and the American people. The economy is sliding into recession, our men and woman in the Armed Forces are fighting two wars abroad, and our country is reeling from the harsh legacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration. The American people are choosing a direction for their children and families. They have a right to hear from those who want to be their leaders. Our Democratic primaries reflect the keen interest of the American citizenry in this election. Our primaries have brought millions of new people into the political process and invigorated a national conversation about the best solutions to meet our challenges.

Senator Clinton believes deeply that political debates are a vital part of our democratic process. It is the American way to place our would-be leaders side by side to hear them articulate and defend their ideas; to challenge each other on their visions for the future; to answer the tough questions about their plans, their records and their judgments; and to celebrate their achievements.

enator Obama has declined the invitation from CBS and the North Carolina Democratic Party to appear for a debate at North Carolina State University tomorrow evening. Senator Obama has apparently declined the invitation of the Indiana Debate Commission to appear for a debate in Indiana next week. Senator Obama has not responded to Senator Clinton’s challenge to debate in Oregon. Will there be no debates in other upcoming states? The American people, of course, deserve more. They deserve debates before casting their votes. They deserve debates just like the states who have participated in this invigorating process before them.

I understand that Senator Obama has raised the point that there have already been more than 20 debates this election cycle. However, only four of those have been between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. We can all agree that many important issues have received scant attention during previous debates, including such important topics as education and the energy crisis.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, a series of public debates across Illinois where two candidates put their ideas, their visions, and their values before the American people. I have no doubt that Senator Obama, who hails from that great state, understands how valuable and vital these national conversations were to the heart of America. We can surely meet the standard our forbearers did. Our final two primary candidates to date have had three fewer debates than Lincoln and Douglas held in single state over 60 days in 1858.

And if we debate, Americans will come. Recent debates have attracted record numbers of viewers – more than 10 million for the last one. And a great number of voters in recent primaries have said that the debates in their states were important to their decision.

Senator Obama himself suggested the last debate in Philadelphia did not provide enough opportunity to talk about issues that “matter[] to the American people.” A Lincoln-Douglas style debate would certainly provide that opportunity. There would be no questions from the media. There would be equal time and equal opportunity to grapple with the important policy questions we are facing today. As Douglas put it, the two candidates would meet “for the purpose of discussing the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind.”

In the spirit of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, we make this proposal:
Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will participate in a 90-minute debate in an open public forum. Just the two of them — no questioners, no panelists, no video clips. One candidate would speak for two minutes, then the other, alternating back and forth all the way through the debate. Their discussion – not any pre-set rules – would determine how long they spend on one subject before moving on to another. Such a debate would range across all of the challenges, large and small, we face as a nation or it could focus on the most significant issue we face today — the economy.

We can readily agree on a host, a place, a date, and a broadcaster or series of broadcasters.

Both of our candidates are making history. Let us continue to do so. Let’s debate.

Sincerely,
Maggie Williams
Campaign Manager

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