A spirited public exchange of ideas has been a hallmark of American politics for generations, offering voters an invaluable opportunity to compare candidates for elected office.
That's why we're disappointed that Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King has resisted invitations to debate his Democratic opponent J.D. Scholten, prior to the Nov. 6 general election.
As even occasional readers of Our Opinion know, members of our editorial board repeatedly have called for public debates of candidates for any public office. And, we have taken King to task for shunning debates in the past.
King, an eight-term incumbent, refused to debate his fall opponents in his first five campaigns, from 2002-2010. Facing a well-known and well-financed Democratic opponent in 2012, Christie Vilsack, wife of a former Iowa governor, King changed his approach, agreeing to a series of seven debates that cycle. In the next election, he debated Democrat Jim Mowrer once.
In 2016, in his first primary challenge, King also faced off once with Republican state Sen. Rick Bertrand in Sioux City. But after winning the primary that year, the GOP congressman refused to schedule any debates with the Democratic nominee, Kim Weaver.
Last week, Scholten, in a campaign video, challenged King to three debates. Scholten reiterated his challenge at a news conference Friday in Sioux City.
We won't argue that three debates are the right number, but we hope the two camps agree to at least one. If that happens, we believe it should take place in Sioux City, the largest city in the sprawling 4th District, which covers 39 counties in northwest and northcentral Iowa.
King contends that because there's not a clear division on major issues between the two candidates, a debate would serve little purpose other than to allow his challenger to "just call me names."
We reject that excuse.
Because the 4th District tilts heavily Republican and King's name recognition in the district is greater than Scholten, a paralegal and former professional baseball player, it would be easy for King to play it safe and not give his opponent a high-profile platform to introduce himself to more voters. While King remains a favorite, there are good reasons to believe this year's contest won't be the slam dunk that he has experienced in some other elections.
King's outspokenness on immigration and other issues, Scholten's robust fundraising and the blue-tinted mood of national voters upset with GOP President Donald Trump all give the Democratic challenger a fighting chance of pulling off an upset. King, who swamped Weaver by 22 points two years ago, led Scholten by just 10 points, 41-31 in an Emerson College poll released last week.
A public debate, in particular, could help undecided voters make a more informed choice at the ballot box.
Like voters across the country, we believe most all 4th District voters expect and deserve to see the two candidates on the same stage, offering their views and solutions on a myriad of issues facing the district, our state and our nation.