Editorial: Debate should be a wake-up call to voters


Collegian Editorial Board

This has turned out to be one of the most-watched campaign seasons in South Dakota and nationwide.

Fifty-five million people watched the first presidential debate Sept. 30.

When Sen. Tom Daschle and John Thune, his Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race, were on the Sept. 19 edition of “Meet the Press” the show averaged 3.8 million total viewers. This was 31 percent more than second place Sunday political show on CBS “Face the Nation.”

In response to the heated election year, get-out-the-vote efforts have flooded election offices in key battleground states like Florida and Ohio.

The efforts are driven by groups like Smackdown Your Vote (a professional wrestling-connected campaign); Hip-Hop Team Vote; a Vote for Change music tour by Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M. and Pearl Jam; and traditional groups like the League of Women Voters; and other party-aligned groups.

Already the candidates are responding to the influx of young voters. John Kerry has appeared on Comedy Central and President Bush’s Web site has a web log detailing the exploits of his daughters on the campaign trail.

Also in response to this high-profile election year, several debates have been scheduled between candidates.

In South Dakota, the highest profile debates will come from former Rep. John Thune and Sen. Tom Daschle. U.S. House Rep. Stephanie Herseth and her republican challenger, Larry Diedrich, will debate at least four times this month.

Now that voters are paying attention to the election, the message they get is crucial to making an informed decision. Now is the time to tune in the debates and read the news stories that delve into the issues and where the candidates stand on them rather than simply buying the party line.

There will be more debates in the next month and a half both in the presidential and the state elections.

What these debates should provide is a real look at the candidates and where they stand on the issues and give voters the opportunity to make informed decisions in the voting booth Nov. 2.

Attack ads have become tools by which special interest groups seek to shape the perception of candidates to suit their own purposes.

Debates are the perfect countermeasure because they allow voters to assess the candidates’ actual stand on the issues and decide for themselves which best represents their opinion on how the state and nation should be run.

The Associated Press contributed information to this editorial.