Wednesday August 8, 2012

The Republican Party received some grief for its long series of debates during the presidential primary campaign but they performed a service in highlighting the strengths -- and more dramatically -- the weaknesses of the candidates. With the September 6 Democratic primary that will decide representation in the newly constituted 1st Congressional District less than a month away, a similar series of debates would perform a service for voters preparing to make an important choice.

Six media-sponsored debates were originally proposed, with incumbent 2nd Congressional District Congressman Richard Neal agreeing to two of them. (Redistricting is moving that district west to encompass Berkshire towns now represented by the retiring John Olver.) A Neal spokesman observed to the Eagle Tuesday that the debates agreed to in Springfield and Pittsfield both involve multi-media outlets.

That they do, but that doesn't mean there should not be multiple debates in other areas of the sprawling new district. No matter who is elected in the race among Representative Neal, Pittsfield's Andrea Nuciforo Jr. and Alford's Bill Shein, many towns in this district will be getting a new congressman. The local and national issues to be debated are complex and important and with no Republican candidate waiting in November, they can only be debated in the weeks ahead before the September primary.

It's a political tradition for challengers to seek more debates and incumbents to resist, but we agree with the two challengers in this race that two debates are too few. Six as originally proposed would be ideal and with Congress not in session, Mr. Neal is out on the campaign trail. Four would be a workable compromise, with one in the northern reaches of the district and a second in a small community. There is still time to make it happen.