Kerrey camp on debates: “Overrated”

The Bob Kerrey camp announced that debates in the U.S. Senate campaign are “overrated”. Kerrey manager Paul Johnson noted that not only are they overrated in terms of their importance, but that they “usually don’t shift voter attitudes.”

Oh, wait. You didn’t see those quotes in Kerrey and Johnson’s pleas to meet Deb Fischer in “many more debates”?

Well, that is because Johnson’s quotes came in 1994, when Kerrey was the incumbent running against much lower polling challenger Jan Stoney. (From David Kotok’s September 30, 1994 OWH story which you can read here.)

And when was Kerrey’s FIRST debate against Jan Stoney before the November election that year? That would be September 30th — just a month before the election. And at that point the Kerrey camp was still thinking about — but hadn’t committed! — to another debate in October.

But what happens 18 years later, when Kerrey decides that he wants to run for election one more time? Oh, there can’t BE enough debates! (Kerrey’s down by 18 points?) MORE debates! A debate a day! Debates are super important, you see! Debates, debates, debates!

In the mean time, the Fischer camp noted to Bob and Paul:

“We promise Mr. Kerrey that there will be ample opportunity for him to explain the role he played in a company that received TARP funds and discuss the lavish compensation he received while running the New School in New York City.”


And speaking of Kerrey’s time away from Nebraska, Kerrey spent the weekend giving a commencement address. Where you ask? Neligh? Cozad? Beemer?

Nope. That would be at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia — halfway between Atlanta and Montgomery, Alabama. There, Kerrey passed along such wisdom as,

“Write and practice reading good sentences.”

(Just how many times do you need to practice reading a sentence before, you know, you’ve mastered it?)

Well, Kerrey is now an Honorary Lawyer at LaGrange. Too bad the local newspaper thought they were listening to “John Kerrey”. Oh well.


And to finish up on all things Cosmic, here is KHAS asking some questions about Kerrey’s 2011 salary issues:


Dads and Grads at (up top!) , baby. Dads and Grads.


  1. Bam says:

    “Don’t do as I said – do as I said that is most expedient for me politically. Oh wait… do I have to do these debates in Nebraska? Can’t I just Skype ’em from the Village?”

  2. Jimmy Pendleton says:

    If debates are so overrated, why not just have them? That goes for Kerrey in 1994, and Fischer today.

    They last, what, two hours? How time-consuming are they really? And if Fischer is indisputably the better candidate (as her campaign and this Web site insist) why not draw that contrast as many times as possible?

  3. Anonymostly says:

    Actually, I think there should be lots and lots of debates. And just as, on a national level, you get Gwen Ifill — the Obama biographer Gwen Ifill — moderating a McCain-Obama debate, since this is Nebraska and since Deb Fischer currently holds all the best cards, I’d say Deb should offer to participate in a series of debates moderated by … yours truly. I’d even do it for free.

    “Sen. Fischer, if your parents were around to see you today, how proud do you think they’d be to see what a respected Stateswoman you’ve become?”

    “Mr. Kerrey, the last time Nebraskans sent a Democrat to the Senate, we wound up with Obamacare. What reason could Nebraskans possibly have to trust you to make the right votes when, as our former Senator, you voted against a partial-birth abortion ban and, more recently, said you favored cap and trade and didn’t think Obamacare went far enough?”

    “Sen. Fischer, you look lovely tonight. Are you comfy? Do you need anything? Would you like to comment on his last answer?”

    “Mr. Kerrey, prior to making your decision to return from New York to Nebraska in order to run for Senate, you were quoted as saying that your years of living in Greenwich Village, New York had moved your politics to the left, but in your ads in your Senate campaign, you try to portray yourself as an average Joe moderate, able to work equally well with both parties. Do you really think the people of Nebraska are that stupid to buy off on such a transparent and cynical attempt to repackage yourself as something actually electable rather than what you really are, which is a typical New York liberal elite?”

  4. Whatever says:

    You pull an 18 year old quote? Sad.

    The reality is that Boys State is a big deal and any candidate who is willing to face hard questions from future leaders will prove themselves worthy of consideration. Those that turn this tradition down are questionable and are sending a message that these boys aren’t worthy of their time. Deb screwed up, and in the press releases, made Kerrey look like the adult with class, while here campaign looked like the little school yard bullies not ready for prime time.

  5. CC Music Factory says:

    WE – How is the 18-year old quote not relevant, considering it was a statement made by the same people that are now trying to play the other side of the fence? I had never heard of Boys State actually hosting a debate before, so I seriously doubt the debate itself is that big a deal. Boys State is a big deal for many students, but Kerrey decided to make political hay with it. I admire those more who are willing to stand by prior commitments rather than let their actions be determined by their political opponents. It’s called principle, something I wouldn’t expect Kerrey to know much about.

  6. Too Bad says:

    I didn’t hear the KHAS newscaster ask any questions.

    It would be great if the Fischer campaign were more enthusiastic about the opportunity for Mr. Kerrey to talk about issues of national concern, such as funding Social Security and Medicare, health care costs, taxes, and foreign policy. But I can understand their preference to discuss petty matters particular to their opponent.

  7. CC Music Factory says:

    Too bad – You mean like stating he would raise taxes? You mean like his support for cap and trade? You mean like stating he has a fix for SS, Medicare, and Medicaid, only to cave to his party when the rubber meets the road? You mean like being for the boondoggle that is Obamacare only that it doesn’t go far enough, and that we should no longer have a choice in our health care by going single payer? And even further, that he’s for partial birth abortion and gay marriage? You mean like those issues? Be careful what you wish for. Kerrey’s stances on the ‘issues’ aren’t in line with the majority of Nebraskans. But Nebraskans will find that out soon enough, if the polls haven’t already shown that they already know. Kerrey – no need to call him a carpetbagger, he’s out of touch on the issues alone.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How many debates did Bob Kerrey have with Chuck Hassebrook, Steven P. Lustgarten, Larry Marvin, etc. for the primary?

  9. RWP says:

    The reality is that Boys State is a big deal and any candidate who is willing to face hard questions from future leaders will prove themselves worthy of consideration.

    Give me a break. I’d bet at least half of Nebraska highschoolers don’t even know who the candidates are.

  10. RWP says:

    Kerrey wouldn’t even debate in his first Senate campaign in 1988, because Ernie Chambers was running as a third party candidate, and he knew Ernie would eat his lunch in a debate.

  11. CC Music Factory says:

    RWP – To be fair, I did get pointed to one debate that year between the candidates. Evidently Karnes made one slip of the tongue in that debate that Kerrey used to help ride to victory, but your point is a good one, in that Kerrey plays both sides of the fence very well when it suits his own purposes. And the debate that year was at the State Fair, and from the footage I was able to see (a CNN preview of the ‘Midwest’ matchups that year), Chambers was no where to be found. Go figure.

  12. CC Music Factory says:

    I love how Bob’s tweets are trying to dictate the #s of debate and the style. I wouldn’t agree to 7 if I were Deb. Way too many on what essentially we’ve already discussed is a fairly pointless endeavor. She has little to gain from that many. I’d say 3-4, a lot closer to the election, and of style and location of her own choosing. Again, he needs them, she doesn’t. Let him bend to her at this point.

  13. paula says:

    Y’all sound like you don’t think that Deb can handle a former US Senator in a debate. Is it memories of Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell? Let me tell you, Deb is smart and can handle herself. I’m tired of men thinking that women can’t measure up to men. “Don’t worry your pretty little head.” Please.

    Deb is educated and has legislative experience. She is a rancher and has a strong family. If you are worried that she can’t debate Bob, she should get a debate coach, which I am sure she already does.

    Maybe no one watched the primary debates (except us political junkies), but the general election debates will be closely watched given that this is a presidential year and the senate maybe flip.

    You should be cheering her on, not weighing her down. She has a lot to say and Nebraskans need to know the differences between her and Bob.

    Have a great week everyone!!!

  14. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am getting terribly tired of all these lying, cheating, self serving, politicians that will say or do anything it takes to get elected. That goes for Democrats as well as Republicans.

  15. CC Music Factory says:


    I don’t have any doubts about Deb’s abilities in debating Bob. While I thought Jon performed the best in the primary debates, Deb held her own. I have no doubts about her being an effective senator because she’s a woman. She’s shown time and time again she can hold her own and come out on top against most any legislator. I would give the same advice I gave above to whoever won the primary. I don’t think she needs to give in to what Kerrey wants in this election. She has the upper hand, there is no reason to let him or Paul Johnson dictate anything in this race. He needs the debates, she doesn’t. Let him stew a bit, then tell him what is going to happen. They can take it or leave it at that point. It’s how Kerrey treated his opponents when he had the upper hand. No need to do him any favors in this election.

    You have a great weekend too!

  16. Lil Mac says:

    Paula, listen to CCMF. You are defending Fischer to her detriment by demanding, apparently for your own entertainment and satisfaction, that Fischer give you a lot of debates with Kerrey right now. Circumspection not brute strength wins these sorts of battles.

    Know that Fischer cannot lower Kerrey more than Kerrey can lower himself by pleading for debates. She has him whining like a whipped pup and it is only May. The voters who decide elections won’t even be awake until late September at the earliest. Any debates now only energize Kerrey’s base and lowers Deb to his level. The most powerful thing Fischer can do right now to help herself and lower Kerrey is for Fischer to do nothing. Let him whine.

    The guy is 18 POINTS DOWN! He’s crying for debates from the bottom of a well and you want Deb to climb down in the well, or that she should pull him out so she can be seen as his equal? He’s 18 points down. Let the SOB stew in that for a while. The more he complains, the more he looks like a bitchy girl and the more senatorial Fischer looks. The more he bitches, the more distracted voters notice that he’s not whining from a position of strength.

  17. Anonymostly says:

    Debates are a risk for the frontrunner, whomever that is and no matter how good of a debater he or she might be. It’s the guy who trails who needs the debates, so one would wonder why someone who supposedly supports Fischer would be recommending something so counter-intuitive.

  18. RWP says:


    You’re right, there was one. My mistake; I misremembered, and should have checked.

    Funny thing is, in 1988, Kerrey started with the same Lincoln-Douglas debates shtick He said he wanted eight. Then, when it turned out Ernie was going to turn up, like a skunk at a picnic, he backed out of all of them but the first, to which Ernie was not invited.

  19. Paula says:

    Lil Mac & CCMF – love the exchange with ya!

    I’m not looking at this through a dem or rep prism, but as an American, and a Nebraskan. I understand that I maybe at the wrong site to discuss the American tradition of substantive debates that have long been forgotten and replaced by sound bites that have been crafted by slick campaign senior advisors and polled tested and that are essentially meaningless.

    I am an idealist and believe passionately in our democracy/republic and because of that passion, it is imperative that we the people get to fully vet our candidates. That means debates. Ppl are sick and tired of being deceived through false representation during the campaign. Bob and Deb have to get into the weeds on the issues. Medicare, Social Security, HCR, tax structure, spending, Wall Street reform, Internet privacy, birth control, foreign affairs, …. The list is very long and deserves a lot of time and respect, respect to the voters, not the candidates, and it’ll take more than three debates.

    So I realize that about now, you are rolling your eyes and thinking that I’m naive, lord knows that I’m surprise at this surge of patriotism – the kind you had in elementary/middle school when you first learn about how special our country is, but I believe that, that is what’s needed right now.

    I m prepared for the mocking.

  20. Isar Rolling says:

    Wow, Paula, you sure are naive!
    You just don’t “get” modern political strategies. Our colleges have dumped tens of thousands of political science graduates into the market and each and every one of them is smarter than you or I. They know what they are doing, so sit back, relax and let them tell you how you are supposed to vote. It is the new American way to do things – no thinking required.

  21. Macdaddy says:

    Paula, you get kudos for taking a different tack while running Kerrey’s errands. Did you guys realize that trying to bully a woman into debates wouldn’t go over well with Nebraskans? You’re a little too transparent, though.

  22. Lil Mac says:

    Political Science? Not hardly. What we need to know about Civics we can learn in High School if we pay attention. My education was combat. If passion and patriotism mattered so much in voting, as you say it should, I would be supporting fellow veteran Kerrey. Calm reason tells me Kerrey’s policies are bad for this country. Reason not passion gets me to that point. Chimps have passion. Passion is what we are put here to rise above.

    We all have at our core idealism and patriotism, honest uncomplicated principles. But to have only that is to be a frontal assault idealogue like Stenberg, who loses for that reason. With him, there are no slick flanking maneuvers, no timing, no deception. He’s a guaranteed casualty.

    Fischer didn’t win the Primary by being straightforward. She timed the leaking of two polls which in turn spurred Don to lower Jon while triggering her momentum and then she pumped in prearranged endorsements to spike her momentum near the end. That was subtle but not invisible. Don’t let your passion convince you her win was a foregone conclusion. Had she been as direct and passionate as you wish, she’d not be the nominee today. And that is good because Kerrey and other politicians and America’s enemies are also not direct or easily read.

    If you want saintly principles and passions, go to church. Government is our bloody shield and sword and if such is wielded by straightforward honest saints, we are doomed. Saints are martyred, you know. People really are trying to kill us, and our nation can crumble to dust, if not run by principled yet dispassionate political leaders who aren’t easily read.

  23. Bam says:

    Anyone listen to NPR’s “All About Politics”? Get the podcast for May 17 – they talk about the Senate primary in which Ben Nelson (whom they describe as a “nominal Democrat”) gave up for Bob Kerrey, whom they describe as a “nominal Nebraskan” to their own laughter. One of the hosts goes on to say it’s hard to campaign from his apartment in Greenwich Village. “Listen, a LOT of people have campaigned from their apartments in Greenwich Village,” said the second, “just not for the Nebraska senate seat!”

    Those guys will get canned if Kerrey gets in.

  24. Paula says:

    Lil Mac,

    John Adams, in the Epilogue: Securing the Republic, said it best: “There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty: and this public Passion must be Superiour to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions and Interests, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.”

  25. Go Deb Go! says:

    Deb is smart to focus on retail politics this summer – there’s plenty of time in the fall for debating. And there is nothing for her to be afraid of – the last two times Kerrey has spoken publicly he has pledged to raise taxes and supported gay marriage. Maybe he has polling showing those two items really resonate statewide… as if.

  26. Lil Mac says:

    Quoting Pres. John Adams on passion in politics? That’s funny. Adams was the first President to lose a bid for a second term; to Jefferson whom Dems consider the founder of their party. Adams got the boot because his Jeffersonian opponents found him too favorable toward Britain AND his own high federalists found him too moderate toward Britain and preferred Hamilton to Adams. Adams’ own people couldn’t stand Adams’ passion for driving people away. So the election got complicated and it was thrown to Jefferson. But it would not have gotten close enough to become complicated had Adams not been such an impolitic fellow. A brainy guy, he pushed away voters. He pushed away supporters. That’s not passion. That’s stupid.

  27. Jimmy Pendleton says:


    Hardly. Lil Mac is dressing up nonsense. The managed tone of most of their discourse is flipped on its head by lines like “People really are trying to kill us, and our nation can crumble to dust,” don’t you think? And the idea that the only kind of passion — that can’t be used, mind you — is one culled from battle. Political nuttiness, which permeates both sides of the aisle, couldn’t possibly come into play. And let’s remember what got The Tea Party a foothold in Congress: Fervor. Those weren’t George F. Will types out there at the rallies. And George F. Will types didn’t run, either.

    And wouldn’t a dispassionate person, not prone to the fluctuating moods of their campaign staffers – who are often some of the most emotional people on the planet at any given moment – agree to the debates as a means of fleshing out their platform? Doesn’t that seem most dispassionate and reasonable? If Fischer’s going to get millions in fundraising – and she will, for a conservative female ranger/rancher/cowboy is basically the GOP’s dream candidate – and money is primary determinant of elections anyway (which it is), wouldn’t the dispassionate decision be to begin to shaping policy goals now so as to hit the ground running in January?

  28. Harley Quinn says:

    @ Lil Mac, You’ll have a great future writing steamy romance novels for old maids.
    @ RWP, You’ll enjoy reading them.

  29. Putter says:

    Scott Kleeb was fifty times the “rancher” that Deb Fischer ever was, and he wasn’t much of a rancher.

  30. RWP says:

    People really are to kill us, Jimmy. You’ll recall some airplanes flying into buildings a while back. Other, smarter people, would like to dominate and even rule us. And yes, I think the seeds of America’s destruction are already sown in our fields, and sprouting.

    I’ve been at tea party rallies. There were a few nuts. There were also a lot of rational, concerned people, watching the country move in a radically wrong direction, and wanting to do something to change it. They may have had passion, but they’ve also sustained an agenda over several years, and had a lot of success. The ones who changed things did so because the went home and organized and planned.

    Have you ever publicly debated anyone? If you do, you need to have everything fleshed out in advance. Fleshing it out in the debate itself is a recipe for disaster. And debates really aren’t a good way of selecting a representative. They’re superficial. Nixon lost because of five o clock shadow. Often a single gaffe overshadows the whole thing. When you hire someone, do you bring in the short list and have them debate each other? Of course not.

    Let’s face it, almost nothing could happen in a debate that would change the mind of anyone posting here. Kerrey has a nearly 50 year public record; we know what he is. Fischer hasn’t quite as long a record, but she has enough. Will listening to Kerrey change my mind, when years of reading Krugman and EJ Dionne and Ezra Klein mostly haven’t? A bit unlikely. Will Kerrey convince me to overlook his record? Zero chance.

  31. Jimmy Pendleton says:


    If debates are a bad way of selecting a candidate, what’s a good way? 30-second ads that paint their opponent in the worst possible light? Stump speeches that paint their own candidacy in the best possible light?

    I find the candidate’s Web site is a good start. I try to read profiles. News coverage helps. But debates – the simple act of getting up and answering a tough question, and perhaps a rebuttal – is a piece of the puzzle for me. You know what isn’t? A 30-second ad.

    I’m not interested in who’s ahead or behind. Maybe that’s because I vote for Democrats and Republicans. I vote for who I think is the best candidate. Debates help me – and many others – in that process.

  32. RWP says:


    Ignore the websites. Candidates will say anything to get elected. Look at the records. Kerrey voted against bipartisan welfare reform. He voted 5 times for partial birth abortion. He was the 50th vote for Clinton’s tax hikes in 1993.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, those tax hikes really turned out bad. Led to a balanced (even surplus) budget, increasing business confidence. The economy boomed until Bush II took over.

  34. Anonymostly says:

    No, anonymous at 39, it wasn’t Clinton’s tax hikes that resulted in a balanced budget. It was Republicans gaining control of Congress in 1994 and passing a balanced budget.

  35. Anonymous says:

    #40, got that right off of Cato’s site, didn’t you? Well try which is not so biased and has actual numbers and graphs.

  36. Anonymostly says:

    You simply cannot raise enough taxes to cover all that government wants to spend. At a certain point, a responsible government has to put the brakes on spending. I don’t disagree with what Jeff Fortenberry says about having to consider tax increases as part of the solution (and renouncing Grover Nordquist’s anti-tax pledge) but, having said that, spending cuts have to be part of the picture. So, to suggest that the 1993 tax increase deserves all the credit for balancing the budget half a decade later under a Republican-controlled Congress is pure folly.

  37. Anonymous says:

    No one said the tax increase deserved all of the credit, just a large part. Our budget deficit started trending down immediately. We did have a booming economy and started realizing some of the productivity gains promised by the PC in the ’80s. I agree we also need to cut spending, but considering that our tax levels as a percentage of GDP are the lowest since 1950, and we are starting to have a huge wave of baby boomers retiring, it’s completely irresponsible to cry “no increase in taxes”.

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