Kevin Yoder and Sharice Davids should stop debating about debates and actually have one

It is time for both Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder and his Democratic challenger, Sharice Davids, to stop arguing about debates and actually have some.

Yoder, who represents the 3rd Congressional District and successfully avoided ever debating his 2016 challenger, Jay Sidie, claims that it’s Davids who is avoiding him this time around.

Maybe there’s some truth to that: She did not agree to a forum last month hosted by the Kansas City, Kan., Chamber of Commerce because of a scheduling conflict, and he’s been dinging her for it ever since.

We’re not surprised, though, that she refused to be ambushed by Yoder at a candidate forum in Johnson County on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, the Republican incumbent announced that he would be attending the Johnson County Bar Association’s luncheon in Overland Park after all, and would — surprise! — debate Davids there.

A guerrilla matchup would have been interesting, but under those circumstances, it’s no wonder she pulled out of the event. Yoder had not been expected to be in town for the forum, but his plans changed after votes in Congress were canceled this week.

If Yoder were serious about scheduling a joint event and if he really wanted to give voters a side-by-side comparison in this race, he’d accept an invitation from The Star and WDAF-TV Fox 4 to participate in a televised debate later this month, as Davids has.

But Davids also needs to schedule other such forums with Yoder. The Republican incumbent has noted that there are half a dozen other proposed debates. He claims that Davids thinks she has the race won already.

Things are going her way, it’s true: Davids is leading in polls, fundraising, and from what we saw in an afternoon spent canvasing with a Republican volunteer of hers in Overland Park this week, in enthusiasm.

While door-knocking, in this case in visits to infrequent Democratic, Republican and undeclared voters, only offers a snapshot, it was striking how much more engaged and informed Davids voters were than those who seemed to be leaning toward Yoder.

“I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought,” said one likely Yoder voter.

“Which one of them is pro-life?” asked another. “Oh, I probably will vote for him then.”

That was in contrast to these comments from Davids supporters: “It’s time for new blood and new thinking,” said 34-year-old Democrat David Saylor, “instead of playing on fears. I’m very, very tired of people who don’t represent me being in charge.” And so, like many he knows, Saylor says he is “much more engaged than in years past. It’s not a joke anymore.”

Davids “appears to me to be very representative of the major issues, not the tangential ones we quibble over,’’ said independent voter Maureen Rank. “Those are justice, fairness, integrity. She’s hitting on the deep issues of who we are going to be in 10 years. I lived through Vietnam and have seen the country divided, but nothing like this, and I believe she could bring us back to solid footing. Even though she’s not a cupcake — a sweet and ‘nice,’ in quotes, presence — her emphasis is not on acrimony, and that’s what we need.”

Consultants always advise candidates who are ahead, as polls suggest Davids is, to minimize their risk by limiting debates and interviews. But part of Davids’ appeal is in seeming less beholden to the usual advice, and in actually being more willing to show up.

Both candidates owe that willingness to voters.

Related stories from Kansas City Star