Unorthodox debate set for 2nd District congressional candidates
For the first time in years, candidates for South Carolina’s District 2 congressional seat are set to take part in a general-election debate.
Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson on Nov. 4 will spar with Democratic and Green Party nominee Arik Bjorn of Columbia and third-party candidate Eddie McCain of Leesville.
The debate will take place from 9:30 to 11 a.m. in the performing arts center of River Bluff High School at 320 Corley Mill Road in Lexington, confirmed River Bluff teacher, coach and debate organizer Michael Burgess of the school’s Center for Law & Global Policy, which is hosting the debate. Burgess also serves as sponsor for both the River Bluff Young Democrats and Teen Republicans.
Wilson, who has held the seat since 2001, last faced off in 2010 against Democratic challenger and Iraq War veteran Rob Miller in a debate televised by WIS-TV. Wilson’s district includes all of Barnwell, Aiken and Lexington counties and portions of Richland and Orangeburg counties.
“I look forward to sharing my positive agenda for the people of the 2nd Congressional District during the upcoming debate,” Wilson said in a statement. “I have a strong, conservative record of creating jobs, promoting peace through strength, and fighting for limited government and expanded freedom for American families.
“Holding the debate at River Bluff High School is especially exciting to me,” Wilson added. “I am grateful to talk with the next generation about issues important to them and ensure their valuable perspective is heard during this campaign process.”
But there’s a caveat.
This upcoming event will be much different than 2010 – by all indications the general voting public will not be invited to attend. But they also won’t be frozen out, either, Burgess said.
Bjorn challenged Wilson to a debate after confronting the congressman early last month while both politicked at the Pelion Peanut Party in Lexington County. The idea, Bjorn said, was to debate Wilson publicly in prime-time and on television, preferably on the state’s public-television network, SCETV.
SCETV subsequently announced it would not televise any congressional debates this year, deeming none of the races competitive enough to warrant the time and expense.
Despite fierce objections from Bjorn and state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, and a resulting social-media backlash led by Bjorn that prompted numerous letters, calls, and emails to SCETV, the network has so far stood firm on its decision. It will, however, reportedly air interviews with all the state’s congressional candidates prior to the Nov. 8 election, Bjorn said.
River Bluff’s facility is fully equipped for easy TV-broadcast transmission, but the Nov. 4 debate instead will be live-streamed by the school via the internet, Burgess said.
Details of the live-stream and how voters can access it are still being determined, he said.
The River Bluff facility has a maximum capacity of 1,200 people. But around 800 seats and possibly more are being reserved strictly for the school’s juniors and seniors, along with space reserved for news media.
Burgess said any leftover seating capacity most likely will be parceled out to the candidates’ friends, family and supporters.
“We’re doing this (debate) for the community, but we’re doing this for our students first and foremost,” Burgess explained.
Despite the unorthodox nature of the debate, Burgess said it will be a golden opportunity for the school’s students, many of whom will be eligible to vote this November.
Despite routine visits by politicians and lawmakers to the school’s Center for Law & Global Policy, Burgess said an event of this type has never occurred at the school or anywhere else in the Lexington County School District One.
“In terms of how it connects to our learning, it doesn’t get any better than to have students see democracy in action with these three candidates debating the issues, and with the questions coming from the students,” Burgess said.
The event will be moderated by a specially selected member of the River Bluff staff. Debate questions are being prepared by crews of students from the center that will be vetted and selected by the center’s senior leaders who represent both sides of the political spectrum.
Though not what he originally envisioned, Bjorn said he is happy to finally have a forum where he can directly confront Wilson.
“And having students asking the questions is fantastic,” Bjorn said.
“I think it’s the perfect environment to address the future voices, the future voters of the district,” Bjorn added. “I’m very, very excited to address our future workforce. On them hinges so much responsibility for our prosperity. They deserve to know, as much as anybody else, our platforms.”
As for McCain, a self-described “constitutional conservative” and the nominee of the American Party of S.C., he said he’s just excited to be invited.
McCain originally was not envisioned as a debate participant at all when Bjorn challenged Wilson, but Burgess said McCain being allowed to participate was a condition of the school hosting the debate.
“I’m excited and happy,” McCain said, adding he is focusing on issues, such as global trade deals, border security, and term limits, he claimed are being largely ignored by his opponents. At the debate, he said, voters will see “I will be the only unique candidate between the three of us.”