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Virtual debates

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Delaware candidates for statewide offices meet in online format

Debate moderator Ralph Begleiter

Ralph Begleiter moderated the 2020 Delaware Debates. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced changes in the format, with Begleiter operating from a campus studio while candidates appeared on camera in their home locations.

Candidates for governor of Delaware and for the states single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives answered questions and discussed issues in Delaware Debates 2020, a virtual event hosted by the University of Delawares Center for Political Communication (CPC) and Delaware Public Media.

The hour-long debates were held on consecutive nights, beginning on Tuesday, Oct. 13, when the major-party candidates for governor, incumbent Democrat John C. Carney Jr. and Republican challenger Julianne E. Murray, met. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 14, the major-party candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives faced off, with incumbent Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat, debating Republican Lee Murphy.

No session in the U.S. Senate race was held this year, as incumbent Democrat Christopher A. Coons said he was unable to participate in a UD debate with his Republican challenger, Lauren Witzke.

The debates, which have been a tradition every election year since 2010, are normally held on the UD campus before a large audience and broadcast live. This year, the event instead was livestreamed with each candidate on camera in their home location and no in-person audience to follow health and safety precautions during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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Moderator facing candidates on screens

The first night of the 2020 Delaware Debates on Oct. 13 featured the governor's race, with incumbent Democrat John C. Carney Jr. and Republican challenger Julianne E. Murray meeting virtually. Ralph Begleiter moderated the debate from University Media Services' campus studio.

Moderator Ralph Begleiter, the retired founding director of the CPC and a former CNN journalist, posed questions from a studio on campus, where he and the production staff followed careful COVID prevention guidelines. In addition to Begleiters questions, the candidates also fielded questions from Delaware Public Media reporter Sophia Schmidt and from several UD students and members of the public, who appeared via video.

Each debate was notable for its adherence to strict time limits for each candidates answers and closing statements and for the participants civility, with no interruptions or name-calling.

In the gubernatorial debate, the initial round of questions and answers centered on the states response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in its disproportionate impact on communities of color and on workers in the food processing industry. The candidates were also asked for their plans for reviving the states economy and making up for the revenue lost because of the pandemic.

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Moderator facing candidates on screens

On Oct. 14, candidates for Delawares seat in the U.S. House of Representatives faced off, with incumbent Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat, debating Republican Lee Murphy.

Other topics focused on funding for schools, especially those with many low-income and at-risk students, and on violence in the city of Wilmington, homelessness, mail-in voting, racial justice and policing, measures to address climate change, property tax reassessments, the Electoral College and the legalization of marijuana.

In their closing statements, Carney spoke of plans to bring people together to address the critical needs of the states health and economic recovery and to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. Murray argued that career politicians in a state thats increasingly dominated by one party are out of touch with the concerns of most Delawareans, who she said have lost many of their freedoms in recent years.

The U.S. House debate covered many of the same issues related to the pandemic, the economy, racial justice and climate change, with the questions focusing on the role of the federal government in addressing these and other challenges.

Specific questions included the Trump administrations response to the pandemic, the future of the Affordable Care Act and what if anything might replace it if the Supreme Court strikes it down, the rising federal budget deficit, building in areas vulnerable to floods and other disasters, the right to abortion under Roe v. Wade, social medias accountability for posted content, incentives for renewable energy, and cybersecurity, especially during elections.

In the candidates answers and their closing statements, Blunt Rochester spoke often of the important role the federal government can and should play in addressing many of todays challenges, while Murphy argued that in many cases, the issues were best addressed by local officials or state governments.

Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape and Kathy F. Atkinson

Published Oct. 15, 2020

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Candidates for Delaware governor and for the state's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives met for the traditional Delaware Debates co-sponsored by UD, held this year in a virtual format.
10/15/2020
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