The campaign of Gov. Ned Lamont agreed Friday to two televised debates with Republican Bob Stefanowski, half the number of head-to-head contests between the duo in 2018 when they competed for an open seat.
NBC Connecticut will host the candidates in its studios on Sept. 27, while WTNH News 8 will broadcast a second and final debate on Nov. 1 from the annual meeting of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities at Mohegan Sun.
Rob Hotaling of the Independent Party of Connecticut will join the two major-party candidates at NBC. The final debate will be limited to Lamont and Stefanowski, though Hotaling is pressing to be included.
This year, at least five broadcasters offered to host debates, including WFSB on Oct. 6, News 12 on Oct. 25, and CPTV with the League of Women Voters on Oct. 27.
“Ned Lamont is a coward. His decision to duck debates with me is an insult to every Connecticut resident, all of whom deserve better from their governor,” Stefanowski said in an emailed statement.
Four years ago, Lamont accepted one more debate invitation than Stefanowski, chiding the Republican for ducking him in a debate dedicated to economic issues. This year, Stefanowski suggested Lamont is reluctant to defend his record on taxes and an FBI investigation of school construction and the State Pier in New London, among other things.
“To fix Connecticut, we need a leader who can stand up, defend their record, and articulate a positive vision for our future,” Stefanowski said. “I’m ready to do just that. Ned should stop hiding and join me.”
Lamont has a near-daily public schedule, open to questioning from the press. Stefanowski has yet to do the same, though he has begun to hold more frequent press conferences.
In 2018, Lamont and Oz Griebel, a minor party candidate on the ballot, debated once without Stefanowski. Lamont and Stefanowski debated four times, twice with Griebel also on stage.
This year, as an incumbent with a 10-percentage-point lead and an advantage in name-recognition, Lamont’s campaign has deemed two debates as sufficient.
“Gov. Lamont is excited to speak directly with the voters of Connecticut and discuss the issues that are important to them and their families,” the campaign said in a statement from its press secretary, Jake Lewis.
The governor agreed to four other forums, including those hosted by the Connecticut Business Industry Association and local chambers of commerce in New Haven and Stamford.
The forums feature separate appearances by the candidates, not head-to-head debates.
Rich Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University, said there is no substitute for head-to-head debates.
“It’s important to have candidates in the same room at the same time talking about the same issues instead of mediating each position through the distortion of television ads,” Hanley said. “It allows for a moment for the candidates to see each other as human, not as simply targets of attacks, disinformation and other elements of modern political discourse.”