U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis says he is defying the conventional wisdom for incumbents and calling for debates with his challengers because he wants to know whether they can propose solutions and not just oppose him.
His four opponents in the June 8 Republican primary for the 4th District seat in the House of Representatives say they are ready to hash out the issues in public.
"I will make myself available to debate any evening, any day of the week, anywhere in the district," said Mauldin businessman Jim Lee, one of four Republicans running against Inglis.
A Democratic candidate has yet to surface.
Inglis told The Greenville News he knows his call for debate "early and often" is atypical for an incumbent, who typically would eschew anything that brings attention to a challenger.
But Inglis said he wants debates "so that we can get after those solutions. We all know the economy is bad, and we hope for better days. The question is how to get there."
He has worked to recruit so-called "green jobs" such as those that might be created by Proterra LLC, an electric bus maker from Colorado eyeing Greenville for a new plant.
Pundits said the Greenville congressman, in calling for debate, is probably hoping to give voters something to think about besides his opponents' claims he's not conservative enough.
Debates could force challengers "to answer some difficult questions about themselves and their own positions on issues and qualifications rather than the entire campaign simply being about Inglis," said Danielle Vinson, a professor of political science at Furman University.
She said Inglis is a "good debater, and he likes the opportunity to explain himself."
Scott Huffmon, a professor of political science at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, said Inglis likely wants to escape the role of "punching bag" and put his challengers on the defensive.
"Although debates hold the danger of memorable jabs and applause lines, Inglis is probably banking on his belief that he can dig deeper into policy issues than one-line sloganeering," Huffmon said.
"He should be careful, however, not to underestimate his opponents."
State Sen. David Thomas of Fountain Inn said he is ready to debate "so that voters see the clear differences between myself and the incumbent."
Spartanburg prosecutor Trey Gowdy said he is enthusiastic about debating issues such as carbon taxes and bank bailouts - two issues raised against Inglis - as long as debates don't interfere with his work as 7th Circuit solicitor.
Gowdy also said he and Inglis discussed issues during candidate forums at the Poinsett Club in August and BMW Manufacturing Co. in October.
Spartanburg professor Christina Jeffrey said she is planning a debate sponsored by a neutral organization.