It was hardly Lincoln-Douglas but last night's Cuomo-Astorino-Hawkins-McDermott debate showed why it's helpful to hold actual forums with candidates before voters head to the polls.
For one night, Andrew Cuomo was forced out of his lair in Albany and actually had to defend himself against someone who doesn't like him or his policies. And guess what? He did pretty well. While incumbent politicians' political playbooks encourage them to debate as little as possible, it also gives them a moment to shine – and remind voters how they got there in the first place.
Obviously, debates also provide challengers a chance to prove that they're not drooling idiots and allows them to look like an equal with an incumbent by sharing the stage with them. And although he was only on PBS, it's likely the most airtime Rob Astorino will see on TV across the state before Election Day next month.
Even with the distraction of two minor-party candidates (and Libertarian Michael McDermott's 15 seconds of Common Core confusion), the debate actually did something that we haven't been doing much this campaign season: focus on the issues.
To spur this dangerous trend, NY1's Josh Robin all week long has been reporting on the many policy differences between Cuomo and Astorino. While it's easy and fun to talk about political horse races and fundraising, it might also be important to understand what fracking is before November Fourth.
Sometimes they're boring or confusing or introduce us to loopy Libertarians, but let's have more debates in campaigns, not less. They may not be perfect but they're best thing we have.