Andy Barr, the Republican candidate in the 6th District congressional race, wants to debate incumbent Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler at least once in each of the district's 19 counties.
In an open letter proposing the series of meetings, Barr wrote, "This concept would remove us both from the comfortable and familiar format that passes for a 'debate' in today's politics (wherein candidates trade sound bites in a television studio) — but I sense that the people of the 6th District would welcome our joint willingness to take this risk."
Barr's motive in issuing this challenge is as transparent as the titular emperor's new clothes in Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale. He would love 19 chances for his Tea Party movement supporters to ambush Chandler in a re-creation of the heated atmosphere incumbents faced in town hall meetings across the nation in 2010.
Besides, if Chandler spent that much time trading words with Barr around the district, he could open himself up to criticism for spending too much time on the campaign trail and not enough attending to his day job on Capitol Hill.
Still, Barr makes a valid point about needing more debates than voters have been getting in congressional races.
The TV studio debates Kentuckians have become accustomed to in congressional and statewide races do tend to be insular affairs with candidates fielding questions from members of the media whose jobs assure their neutrality.
And all too often, voters are denied even that opportunity to see opposing candidates strut their stuff on the same stage.
These days, political challengers, particularly those who lag in name recognition or fund-raising prowess, routinely propose as many debates as possible. The more debates, the more opportunities for incumbents to commit a gaffe.
Incumbents, who loathe sharing a stage and spotlight with a challenger, just as routinely agree to as few debates as possible — and only when they feel the heat, as Chandler did in 2010 and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did in 2008.
Incumbents with substantial leads in the polls and in campaign pocketbooks may not agree to any at all.
Chandler, McConnell and other members of Kentucky's congressional delegation have taken passes on debates in elections gone by.
Voters deserve more respect than that shown by incumbents who dodge debates.
Anyone, challenger or incumbent seeking public office has a responsibility to stand up and be judged against his/her opponent.
Since Barr and Chandler have danced this dance before and Chandler knows he faces a tough test, we expect him to debate Barr this year.
Multiple debates, including some in the kind of public forums where the risk of ambush for both candidates can be reduced to a minimum, would be preferable.
Voters deserve no less.