GOP Senate Candidate Looks to Resurrect Lincoln-Douglas Debates

by Eliana Johnson

Tom Cotton, the Republican senatorial nominee in Arkansas, is looking to resurrect the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He challenging incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor to five unmoderated contests reminiscent of the 1858 debates between Illinois Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephan Douglas. 

“There used to be a time in our politics when voters could look the two candidates in the eye and hear from them directly,” Cotton said in a statement on Sunday. ”That’s why I’m inviting Senator Pryor to participate in today. The Senate is commonly known as ‘the world’s greatest deliberative body.’ I think we should have a series of one-on-one Lincoln-Douglas-style debates to let Arkansans decide who will best represent their views and values over the next six years.” 

A spokesman for Pryor welcomed the invitation to debate but did not respond directly to Cotton’s proposal that the candidates use the Lincoln-Douglas format. “Mark looks forward to debating Congressman Cotton at the appropriate time and in a format where voters statewide can finally hear Mr. Cotton’s explanation for recklessly voting to turn Medicare over to insurance companies, cut benefits and raise the age to 70 for Social Security and Medicare,” Pryor spokesman Erik Dorey told the Arkansas Times

The seven Lincoln-Douglas debates pitted Lincoln against sitting senator Stephen Douglas on the issue of the expansion of slavery, particularly into territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The candidates traveled to seven of Illinois’ congressional districts, debating before live audiences and adhering to a strict format. 

Most recently, former House speaker Newt Gingrich proposed the idea of reviving the Lincoln-Douglas debates during the 2012 Republican primary, inviting his Republican opponents to square off with him one-on-one and promising that if he was the GOP nominee, he would challenge President Obama to seven three-hour debates. If the president declined, he said he would follow Obama as he traveled across the country and refute his remarks in person.