Local News

Two of South Dakota's Democratic candidates for high, statewide office have attacked their opponents for either not debating or not debating enough.


Gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton has accepted at least 10 debates with his main opponent, Republican Kristi Noem. Noem has accepted two televised debates.


Attorney General candidate Randy Seiler has accepted a number of debates. Meanwhile, Republican opponent Jason Ravnsborg has accepted a handful and says he cannot debate during most of October because he's involved in trials. 


Both Seiler and Sutton have made it an issue in their races, particularly Sutton.

But is it a winning strategy to paint your opponent as a debate-a-phobe? News asked a number of the state's political pundits and those who have worked in politics as staff or candidates to get their opinions on whether the "debating debates" is a viable campaign strategy.


  • Troy Jones, Republican, former staffer to Sen. Jim Abdnor: "The easiest way to get an opponent to get distracted away from issues that don’t matter is to announce you won’t debate your opponent."
  • Tom Lawrence, Democrat, press secretary to Congressional candidate Tim Bjorkman: "There is a long history of SD politicians involved in races with few or no debates. Nixon over McGovern, 1972. Abdnor over McGovern, 1980. Herseth Sandlin in both 2006 and 2008 over Bruce Whalen and Chris Lien. Tim Johnson over Joel Dykstra. The ones who sought debates tried to make it an issue ... and failed."
  • Rick Hauffe, Democrat, former S.D. Democratic Party executive director: "I think there is a way to make it work, but it requires the right hook and a lot of firepower behind the right way to frame an opponent's arrogance. Least effective is to allow it to sound like whining. With an open seat, I think there is more merit in the issue." 
  •  K.C. Capra, former KTWB disc jockey, aspiring Libertarian talk show host: "Some people can’t debate facts, that’s why they won’t debate."
  • Peter Pischke, Republican, unsuccessful Sioux Falls School Board candidate, podcaster, The Happy Warrior: "Unfortunately I think that (not debating as to not make a gaffe) is a new piece of prevailing wisdom."
  • John Tristan, political party unidentified, blogger, The Constant Commoner: "On that one fact alone,  I can't recall.  It probably has some political value for Sutton's campaign though, and it should be frequently brought up as part of his overall message. 
  • David Newquist, Democrat, retired Northern State University journalism professor, blogger, Northern Valley Beacon: "I don’t think there has ever been a poll or any study that has examined the effect that a refusal to debate has had on an election.  In my old home district in Illinois, a former newspaper colleague thought it played a role in the 2014 election.  In 2010, a Tea Party candidate named Bobby Schilling became the first Republican to be elected to Congress in many years.   In 2012, he was challenged by Cheri Bustos, who won.  In 2014, Schilling challenged Bustos.  They had one televised TV debate during which Bustos fact-checked some of Schilling’s ads against her and overwhelmed him with her command of information. He avoided further debates, and my former colleague said that led to a 10-point defeat by Bustos.  My colleague thought the refusal to debate again was seen by voters as a tacit admission of inadequacy.  However, that was his perception gained through campaign coverage, not any hard data."