The Maine Republican Party should have to call “glass.” That’s what schoolyard basketball players do when they heave up a shot that’s supposed to hit the backboard before going in the net.

The Republican bank shot came in the form of a news release with the subject line, “Maine GOP calls for debates between First-Choice Cutler, Second-Stringer Michaud.”

The email makes a gleeful reference to Eliot Cutler’s claim that he was offered the Democratic nomination and refused it, choosing to remain an independent candidate for governor. The main point of the news release, however, is to show support for Cutler’s call for more debates — as long as they happen without a Republican candidate on the podium. In other words, the Republican Party would be happy to see a spirited, two-candidate face-off between Cutler and Mike Michaud, reminding everyone that Gov. Paul LePage is busy running the state.

A debate with Michaud could help raise Cutler’s stature, and, in theory, anything that’s good for the independent would be bad for the Democrat, who is locked in a dead heat with LePage in most polls. This was like a move tried in 2012, with the affiliations reversed, that led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to buy ads supporting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Dill in the belief that building her up would bring down independent Angus King and help the chamber’s real favorite candidate, Republican Charlie Summers.

It didn’t work last time, but give them credit for trying. It’s been a nice summer, and it’s hard to get people focused on politics. But in a few weeks, summer will be over, Election Day will be in sight and the candidates will be the center of attention.

By agreement, there are supposed to be four debates this fall, more than enough opportunity to see these well-known public figures on the same stage at the same time.

In the meantime, there is no reason that the candidates can’t start debating the issues right now.

LePage has raised cutting social service spending as his most important issue. The other candidates don’t have to wait until a formal debate to respond to LePage’s approach and explain what they would do differently if they were elected.

Other issues are also fair game. A poll by the Maine People’s Resource Center showed strong support for a higher minimum wage, mandatory paid sick days and universal pre-kindergarten. We’ve seen where LePage is on these issues, and the other candidates have published their plans. No formal debate is needed for them to engage each other and show how they are different.

Early voting already has begun, and the number of debates seems to be the least important issue that could be debated now. The campaign is on, and no bank shots are needed.

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