The debate debacle: 6th District candidates fail to debate again

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

Much has been made of whether U.S. House Rep. Fred Upton would debate Democratic challenger Paul Clements.

Upton, R-St. Joseph, has scheduled five different forums and debates throughout October.

In a statement released in September, Clements called upon Upton to face him in four debates across the 6th District. Upton’s representatives had since responded that the congressman had already scheduled the five forums that didn’t involve Clements.

“For Congressman Upton not to hold a public debate reflects how he has drifted away. It’s an insult to the voters because he’s asking to represent us and not challenge his record,” Clements said in an interview with The Herald-Palladium. “He used to do it, but I don’t know whey he’s not.”

Upton said they’ve organized five different forums that vary from TV interviews to live radio and open forums. The first one was an Oct. 6 forum in South Haven.

“The one in South Haven had a live audience where we took questions,” Upton said. “They asked the first question and every other question came from the audience, which I think two-thirds of them were from the Clements’ team, based on what I responded to.”

The two-hour long event in South Haven, which was open to the public, was the closest one to be held to his hometown of St. Joseph. None of the scheduled events are in Berrien County.

“Every underdog would like to do a debate every day in every different community,” Upton said. “Challengers would like to have a debate as many times as possible, hoping there can be some screw up on my part. I felt we have done a good job in allowing the public to ask us questions.”

A debate between the candidates was canceled during the last election period at the last minute when Upton announced he needed to be in Washington, D.C., for an Ebola crisis hearing held by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The presidential effect

In relation to the presidential candidacy, several political analysts are predicting trouble for down-ballot Republicans because the party’s nominee Donald Trump is sinking fast.

In September, Democrats had a three-point advantage in a generic congressional ballot, according to Washington Post polling. Now, the advantage is seven points. More than half of poll respondents said Republican candidates for Congress should either rescind support for Trump or demand he drop out of the race.

The battle for Senate control was already a nail biter, and if Trump loses by big enough margins, the historically large majority in the House of Representatives could go down as well.

Among those who believe in the trickle-down effect is Clements.

“There’s a new dynamic in the race because of Trump,” he said. “We know the top of the ticket affects all the other races. I’m likely to be a beneficiary of that.”

Upton has kept his distance from Trump. As of spring – when there were still a dozen candidates left in the field – Upton said he would not endorse the reality TV star turned presidential candidate along with any of the other Republican presidential candidates.

“I said from the start that we are going to stay in our own lane. (Trump’s) gone after Muslims and women. I’m not defending what he’s doing, and I’ve spoken out on some of the egregious things he’s said,” Upton said. “For me, I thought he won our primary fair and square. Rather than support his constant attacks on women, Muslims, immigrants and Republicans, I stayed put.”

When asked by The Herald-Palladium if he planned on voting for any presidential candidate, Upton said: “I’ve said I’m not voting for (Democratic nominee) Hillary Clinton, but we’re not going there.”

Clements, on the other hand, has endorsed Clinton. However, the nod of approval came after Clements was previously endorsed by presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“She’s demonstrated she’s on top of things, the way her opponent has not done,” Clements said. “I’m proud to be voting for Hillary Clinton. I’m disappointed one of our presidential candidates (Trump) can’t explain policies in interviews. His constant approach seems to be attacking anyone.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 17, 2016)

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