If you get the feeling many elected officials are trying to avoid you, that's because many of them are.

Town hall meetings have become as rare as moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats.

And debates? Plans for them these days seem to come down to not how many the candidates will have, but how few.

According to an article on the Politico website in late August, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have held nearly 70 percent fewer town hall meetings with constituents this month than they did last August. 

That’s a troubling trend to which area Pennsylvania congressmen, Lou Barletta and Tom Marino, have contributed.

The news isn’t any better for debates.

Some of the most competitive, important elections in the nation are taking place in Pennsylvania this year. The race for governor between incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf and Republican challenger Scott Wagner and the campaign for the U.S. Senate between incumbent Democrat Bob Casey and Barletta are both potential bellwether contests for how the November mid-term elections may go.

So far Wolf has agreed to only one debate. Casey has agreed to two. 

Incumbents have long looked to limit debates and their potential “gotcha” moments. Incumbents with double-digit leads in the polls, as Wolf and Casey had in the Franklin & Marshall poll released Thursday, are even less likely to agree to multiple debates. 

It’s really a stretch to use the word debate to describe the one scheduled Wolf-Wagner encounter. It will be held during the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry’s fall dinner on Monday, Oct. 1 in Hershey. It will be moderated by “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek and is scheduled to last 45 minutes, from 8:15 to 9 p.m., according to the Chamber’s website.

OK, I can’t resist. This is just too easy to pass up.

I’ll take “No Real Debate” for $400, Alex.

At least the two U.S. Senate debates between Casey and Barletta will be full-scale events, one in Pittsburgh and one in Philadelphia.

While the challengers are predictably unhappy with the small number of debates, voters are the real losers.

Debates matter in the election process. They help undecided voters make up their minds. They also give us a chance to see the candidates in a setting where they may be just a little less polished and a little more vulnerable.

Locally, the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area is again working to bring candidates together with voters shortly before the election. The date for the League’s Candidates Night has not yet been set, as they are having a difficult time getting commitments. 

The League’s plan is to invite the candidates for congress in the 12th district (Republican incumbent Tom Marino and Democratic challenger Marc Friedenberg) and for state representative in the 85th district (Republican incumbent Fred Keller and Democratic opponent Jennifer Rager-Kay). We strongly urge them to participate. 

The Daily Item, meanwhile, has begun reaching out to the candidates in the gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and House and contested state races for editorial board interviews. We will live stream those interviews on our website and record them for later viewing. We will also invite readers to submit questions for those candidates. More on that in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, no matter what candidates you support, the more you get to hear from them beyond self-serving TV spots and news sound bites, the better it is for our democracy.

Email comments to dlyons@dailyitem.com.

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