Voters deserve to see televised Senate debate

Politically, we understand why U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has declined an invitation to participate in one of the state's traditional election season events, ETV's statewide televised debate.

The latest poll by Winthrop University shows Graham is the favored candidate of 46.3 percent of likely voters, while challenger Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, is drawing 28 percent of support and independent candidate Thomas Ravenel, a former state treasurer, is at 8 percent. (A fourth candidate, Libertarian Victor Kocher, is also in the race.)

With that kind of a comfortable lead, there's little reason for Graham to subject himself to the accusations and criticisms that surely will be lobbed at him by trailing challengers who have everything to gain and little to lose. As they say in politics, if you're explaining, then you're losing.

And to his credit, Graham has agreed to debate just Hutto in a Columbia forum hosted by the state Chamber of Commerce Oct. 27. (Graham told The Charleston City Paper he refuses to debate Ravenel, who was indicted on cocaine distribution charges in 2007 and is now featured in a reality TV series, explaining that, as a sitting senator, he has a responsibility "not to allow this thing to turn into a circus.")

But most constituents will be unable to travel to Columbia for this debate. It's unlikely to be televised. And it certainly won't have the same level of publicity and the statewide reach as the ETV one.

Ultimately, few will see the debate. And no other ones are planned at this time.

The result is a virtual bowing out of an important part of the election process on which S.C. voters have come to depend. Constituents from across the district deserve to see Graham stand side-by-side with his challengers (even the one Graham may think a joke) and answer South Carolina-specific questions before a S.C. audience. His frequent appearances on the Sunday morning political talk shows are no substitute for appearing before those who have elected him and those considering voting for him and hearing his impromptu responses.

And while he may get a few curve balls thrown his way by Ravenel, who has been very critical of Graham's time in Washington, that's just part of the process. Informed voters are smart enough to know when a cheap shot is taken. They're an expected part of any debate -- not a deterrent for someone seeking another term as a public servant.

And there's another big reason for Graham to participate. Just eight percent believe Congress is doing a good or excellent job, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports survey. With that kind of approval rating, every member of the U.S. House and Senate should explain to voters what they've been up to, why they're a standout and what they plan to accomplish in another term.

It's not too late for Graham to reconsider participating in the ETV debate or other televised ones. Voters deserve it.