Several weeks ago we had good reason to believe that Greg Walden, our 10-term congressman, would be debating his Democratic challenger, Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne.

But with a little more than a month before ballots are mailed for the Nov. 6 election, we’re not quite so sure any debates will happen.

This would be disappointing.

Back in late July, during the Chief Joseph Days parade in Joseph, McLeod-Skinner challenged Walden to a series of debates.

“I look forward to debating you,” Walden said. “We’ll figure out a schedule that works.”

Justin Discigil, a spokesman for Walden, told us Friday that “we have every intent” of scheduling debates. “We don’t see any reason why we can’t work out something,” Discigil said.

He said there has been no discussion, however, between the two candidates.

McLeod-Skinner proposed a specific slate of three debates, the first of which, set for Aug. 31 in Umatilla County, obviously won’t happen. The two other dates and places she suggested are Oct. 7 in Jackson County and Oct. 22 in Deschutes County.

We understand that as a Democrat in a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats by about 45,000, McLeod-Skinner probably has more to gain by debates than does Walden, who has easily won re-election nine times, five times with more than 70 percent of the vote.

It would afford her free publicity, if nothing else — Walden’s campaign budget, at around $3.2 million in late June, was about 31 times bigger than McLeod-Skinner’s.

But the issue here isn’t about whether Walden or McLeod-Skinner would benefit more from debates — it’s about how voters in the 2nd Congressional District would benefit.

Debates offer voters a unique opportunity to listen to, watch, and, depending on the format, even pose questions to candidates. Speeches and candidate questionnaires and sometimes even advertisements can be useful, too. But only in face-to-face debates can we see how candidates react to spontaneous questions — and to each other’s answers.

We think debates are valuable in any election.

But this year’s contest might be the most competitive during Walden’s tenure in Congress, which dates to 1999. James Foster, a professor emeritus of political science at Oregon State University’s Cascades campus in Bend, said McLeod-Skinner is Walden’s most formidable challenger. Foster believes she could win.

The prospects for debates are intriguing. McLeod-Skinner has driven 35,000 miles around the district talking to voters, and she has emphasized that her positions aren’t those of an orthodox urban progressive. Walden, meanwhile, has two decades of experience in Washington, D.C., to draw on.

Gubernatorial candidates Kate Brown and Knute Buehler have agreed to three debates so far.

We hope Walden and McLeod-Skinner can appear at least once on the same stage.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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