Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean continued to keep their campaigns civil Tuesday night in Kingsport, where the two held their second debate.
They largely passed up on direct attacks, but there were some places where they sought to highlight their contrasting views.
Trailing far behind, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean might have been expected to abandon the niceties. He never quite did so. Instead, Dean sought to draw distinctions politely. As in this response about improving education.
"Mr. Lee is an advocate for vouchers. Now, I have the scars on my back from my work in education reform," Dean said, before drawing out a final point for emphasis, "but I do not believe in vouchers."
Throughout the debate, streamed online by the Johnson City Press, Dean also tried to pin Lee on issues like Medicaid expansion and the opioid crisis, searching for places to exploit the political novice's inexperience.
Even business recruitment — often seen as one of the governor's most important duties — became an opportunity to offer different visions on how to attract companies to Tennessee. For Lee, the trick is focusing more on vocational trades. He complained that his own building services firm, the Lee Company, has trouble finding tradesmen.
"When we have a skilled workforce, then we will attract the kind of business into this community that will keep that talent here."
For his part, Dean also touted more vocational education. But, he added, a culture of tolerance plays a major role in attracting talent.
"Young people are going to go where it's friendly. Young people are going to go where talent is appreciated," he said. "And they're going to go where other young people want to be."
But Lee mostly avoided engaging Dean. Perhaps the closest he came was a general lament about government spending.
"You know, in business, if you don't manage a budget, you go bankrupt," Lee said. "In government, if you don't manage a budget, you raise taxes."
Lee's campaign accompanied that remark with a reminder on social media that Nashville raised property taxes six years ago, when Dean was mayor.
Dean put up a defense of his record, including times when he had to cut spending. But with less than a month to go until the election, his opportunities to make his case to voters appear to be dwindling.