Three's a charm -- or it could be, if Arlen Specter would agree that voters in a state as large and diverse as Pennsylvania deserve three debates to evaluate candidates in the primary race for U.S. Senate.
Mr. Specter, in his 30th year of representing Pennsylvania in the Senate, wants only one face-to-face debate with U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, while the challenger for the Democratic nomination is arguing for six debates, one in each of the state's media markets.
It is understandable and typical for an incumbent to want to limit joint appearances that can give a challenger more visibility and credibility. But it's not as if Mr. Sestak has Mr. Specter on the ropes. A Rasmussen poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Specter with his biggest lead so far, 53 percent to 32 percent, and the incumbent ended the third quarter of 2009 with $8.7 million to Mr. Sestak's $4.7 million.
Still, his campaign manager, Christopher Nicholas, says Mr. Specter traditionally has participated in a single debate in primary elections and two in the fall general election, and that's his intention this time around, too.
This time is different. In his previous five runs for the Senate, Mr. Specter was a Republican, and he switched to the Democratic side only last year. After so recent a conversion, he owes his new constituency of primary voters more chances to see him in action.
True, the single debate to which Mr. Specter has agreed -- on May 1 in Philadelphia -- is to be broadcast statewide through the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters. But that's not the same as seeing candidates interact and counter each other's arguments in different locations with different formats or audiences.
If more is better than one, then why not six as Mr. Sestak suggests? The reality of the campaign trail is that, unless candidates are evenly matched in name recognition, fundraising and stature -- that is, if they each have as much to lose and as much to gain from the appearances -- that's not going to happen.
Meeting in the middle with three debates would be just right, and it could demonstrate that both candidates know how to compromise -- a skill the victor will need in the rancorous Senate chamber.