Column: Bustos follows Rule No. 1 – avoid debates

Former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos still is far ahead in campaign fundraising for the Democratic race in the 17th Congressional District, which includes Whiteside County.

As of Feb. 3, she had pulled in $383,184. The other two candidates, Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp and Augustana College official Greg Aguilar, have raised $17,080 and $16,839, respectively.

Whoever wins the March 20 Democratic primary takes on U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, elected in 2010. Political observers say the 17th is more Democratic because of redistricting, so Schilling will have to fight hard to keep his seat.

Bustos has so much money that she is the only candidate who people can’t reach directly. We reporters go through her spokesman, Matt Larson.

She has racked up big-name endorsements such as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and former Sen. Adlai Stevenson III.

It appears as if the party establishment has anointed Bustos. Durbin and Bustos’ family are longtime friends, so she is well connected.

As the perceived front-runner, Bustos is following Political Rule No. 1: If you’re in the lead, avoid debates.

Larson said Bustos will have attended five debates before the primary election. Aguilar said he wasn’t invited to two of them. And Gaulrapp said one of them wasn’t a true debate; the candidates simply spoke about themselves for a few minutes.

Larson promised that his candidate would attend the fifth debate, which is 5 days before the primary in Peoria.

In a statement, Bustos said she is on a “listening” tour.

“What people are talking to me about are jobs, Social Security, and Medicare and how we are going to balance the budget,” she said. “Not a single person has asked me about the number of debates we are doing.”

Maybe not, but certainly she must recognize the value of debates in a state that is famous for those Lincoln-Douglas face-offs. We want to make sure our representative can argue effectively on behalf of the district on the House floor. And don’t the Democrats want their candidates to hone their debating skills before facing Republicans?

We need to get past talking points and delve into the nuts and bolts of issues. Debates can do that.

Sauk Valley Media reporter David Giuliani covers the Whiteside and Lee county governments. Morrison and other smaller communities. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.