Before the public has a chance to see candidates debate in a major political race, a series of private debates has taken place behind the scenes by the campaigns.

They’ve debated where the debates will take place, who should sponsor them and what the format should be. And all of those debates come after the most important one: Should we debate at all and, if so, how many times?

The answers vary among candidates, campaigns and years. By some estimates, 2022 is a year in which campaigns for some major offices like Congress and governorships are down significantly.

Cornell Clayton.

Incumbents typically see less advantage in debating and are likely to try to limit their participation, said Cornell Clayton, a Washington State University political science professor and director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy.

“Challengers want as many as they can get,” he added.

In the past, an incumbent who refused to debate would get “beat up” over it in the news media, Clayton said, but not as much any more. “I wonder if there’s a declining sense of obligation on the part of the candidates.”

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