Kay Hagan says she won’t take part in Oct. 21 debate

A debate on U.S. Senate debates surfaced Tuesday after Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan said she wouldn’t participate in an Oct. 21 candidate forum hosted by three of the state’s largest news organizations, including the Observer.

Debate sponsors in addition to the Observer are Time Warner Cable News and The (Raleigh) News & Observer. To qualify for the debate, candidates will need to poll an average of 15 percent voter preference in three independent polls in late September and early October.

“Before Sen. Hagan even knows who’s qualified for the debate, she’s said she will not attend the debate,” said Bernie Han, vice president of TWC News in New York. “If she doesn’t appear and (Libertarian candidate) Sean Haugh doesn’t meet the threshold, it could just be (Republican challenger) Thom Tillis standing there.

“We’re still hopeful that the senator will have a change of heart.”

The debate will take place in front of a live audience and be aired on the cable network’s “Capital Tonight” program.

2 other debates planned

Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said Tuesday that the campaign told organizers in early July that the first-term senator wouldn’t take part in the Oct. 21 debate. In a July 9 letter to the Tillis campaign, the Hagan campaign said Hagan would participate in two debates hosted by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation and a third by the League of Women Voters and WECT-TV in Wilmington.

The first debate took place last week. Details on the league debate are still being worked out.

“We just weren’t able to do every debate,” Weiner said. “Back when we announced the series of debates, we had let them know that we wouldn’t be able to attend the Oct. 21 debate.”

Tillis, the N.C. House speaker, on Tuesday accused Hagan of “ducking another major debate.”

Tillis sent Hagan a letter encouraging her to reconsider the Oct. 21 debate and five others. “Participating in a debate hosted by a respected statewide television news channel in addition to the state’s two largest newspapers would help significantly increase the interest surrounding our race,” Tillis wrote.

Weiner called Tillis’ gesture “a disingenuous attack,” noting that Tillis was a no-show at several debates during the primary.

“The reason we challenged Speaker Tillis to three debates was so that North Carolinians would have a chance to see the contrast” between the two candidates, Weiner said.

In the July letter, the Hagan campaign said the three forums that Hagan agreed to are the ones that U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall debated in 2010.

Hagan said she understood the importance of comparing records because her opponent in 2008, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, declined to debate her.

Observer Editor Rick Thames said he and Time Warner News officials have had several discussions with Hagan’s campaign since November about the Oct. 21 event.

“We think we’ve planned a great event,” Thames said. “We hope that over time she will reconsider, but we think it will be a great event for the voters regardless.”