Mishandling of debate announcement could affect HD 111 race in Mississippi

Cross-posted at MississippiPEP.com

BY: B. Keith Plunkett

political debate announced Tuesday by local television station WKFK between Democrat Brandon Jones and Republican Charles Busby was abruptly canceled Friday morning due to an apparent mixup by the station. WKFK issued a statement that said, “One of the candidates has chosen not to participate in the proposed debate, so we are canceling the event.”

According to a Friday report by the Mississippi Press, WKFK issued a press release stating that House District 111 Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, and his Republican challenger Charles Busby had agreed to a live debate on that date.

Station Manager Tammy Moore on Wednesday afternoon reiterated that both candidates had agreed to the plan. But, said she only found that Busby didn’t plan on attending on Friday prompting the statement.

After a story about the debate ran in Thursday’s edition of The Mississippi Press, Busby issued a press release stating that he had not accepted the station’s invitation saying the format was unacceptable because it “called for the selection of questions and topics by station management from a pool of questions collected from the public, with no verification of the sources.”

For his part, Jones immediately seized on the mishap saying that he regrets the debate has been canceled, and that he is willing to participate in a debate in any format.

The first question that comes to mind is, “Who mishandled this?” All reports indicate Busby’s camp to have been somewhat vague in the handling of this. First, there is the fact that the station obviously thought Busby was participating. No station would go out of their way to make that announcement otherwise. Then there is Busby’s decision that “no verification of the sources” of the questions was a deciding factor.

While Busby may be right in thinking this could offer up some “gotcha” moments that could negatively affect his campaign, the general public sees a candidate unwilling to debate. On the other hand, they see Jones willing to do so regardless of format.

One very important aspect of political communication is the need to get it right, especially toward the last couple of weeks. If Busby wasn’t on the phone with the station manager’s prior to the announcement and relied solely on email communication, then that is big problem. And, if he was and this was all the stations fault, then he should have made that call before the Mississippi Press had a chance to run a story.

Busby’s camp should be demanding the station sponsor the debate, and they come to terms over a new agreement. So far, 4 days after the fact, that announcement hasn’t been made. Problems shouldn’t be allowed to cook that long without a strong response.

Busby has a good chance at unseating Brandon Jones. But Jones won this race by only 11 votes last time. Every little mishap–whether the candidates fault or not–creates doubt in voters minds.

Busby should get out in front of this now with a much stronger response other than the notion that the format didn’t suit his tastes.

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