The four Republican Senate candidates who debated on Idaho Public Television Thursday night pitched themselves as an alternative to the career politician.
Then they went out and demonstrated their amateur status. For 60 minutes, they pretty much gave a pass to the front-runner and the one professional candidate in the GOP field — Lt. Gov. Jim Risch.
The first question out of the box was about Risch, a no-show at Thursday night's debate. All four candidates failed to seize the opening.
None of the candidates brought up the centerpiece of Risch's pedestrian campaign for the GOP nomination — the property-tax bill he engineered as governor two years ago. Risch's rivals are slamming the property tax relief and the sales tax increase that went with it (click here for our story). They somehow failed to bring it up during a statewide debate five days before the primary.
Only Fred Adams, a Senate candidate from Idaho Falls, had a clue about what a candidate ought to do when the front-runner isn't on hand to defend himself. You go on the attack.
Adams criticized the fact that top Republicans have closed ranks around Risch, saying this prompted his run. In his closing remarks, he slammed Risch for refusing to participate in a live, televised debate because he wants to duck the tough questions. "Risch is simply another lifetime politician."
Give Adams points for pluck.
As I've said, Risch's decision to shop for a friendly debate — opting only for the pre-taped pseudo-debate orchestrated by KTVB — was disappointing. And he ought to be embarrassed by his lame stated explanation: concerns over the Public Television format.
But considering the way Thursday's debate unfolded, Risch probably won't pay for his duck-and-cover politics.
The general election field is likely to include two eager Risch antagonists, Democrat Larry LaRocco and independent Rex Rammell. My guess is they will be much less forgiving.
To watch Thursday's debate online, and see the post-debate analysis, click here.