While the Democrats running for U.S. Senate will face off twice, the Republicans running for Senate and governor won’t appear in debates before the March 15 primary.
That’s because the incumbents, Gov. Pat McCrory and Sen. Richard Burr, have declined to debate their GOP challengers, according to Time Warner Cable News, the network that sought to host the debates along with the League of Women Voters.
“Both of those campaigns said they would not entertain invitations to primary debates, only debates for the general election,” news director Rick Willis of TWC News said Thursday.
TWC News and the League of Women Voters will host a debate Feb. 29 involving the Democrats running for U.S. Senate at High Point University. The following night, another debate is scheduled for the Democrats running for governor – if Attorney General Roy Cooper agrees to participate.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The league’s rules state that debates will be canceled if only one candidate participates, so don’t expect to see Cooper opponent Ken Spaulding debate an empty chair.
Willis said the Cooper campaign hasn’t told the station whether he’ll participate. Cooper’s campaign hasn’t responded to multiple News & Observer requests for comment over the past week.
McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz did not respond to inquiries Thursday about the governor’s refusal to debate his Republican opponents.
Burr’s campaign strategist, Paul Shumaker, said Thursday that he had received no “formal request” from any TV stations wanting to host a Republican Senate debate.
Shumaker provided a Dec. 10 email from Willis in which TWC News asked whether the Burr campaign would “entertain debate invitations for the March 15 primary.” Shumaker’s email reply said the campaign would only consider debates in the general election, explaining that Burr’s opponents hadn’t raised money and “no media source I know has taken them as a credible candidate.”
That exchange took place before Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon entered the race. Brannon came in second to Thom Tillis in the 2014 Senate primary with 27 percent of the vote, and he has been actively fundraising.
Shumaker said Thursday that Brannon would not have changed the Burr campaign’s decision because polling indicates most voters aren’t familiar with him.
On the Democratic side, Durham businessman Kevin Griffin and Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey have committed to the Feb. 29 Senate debate and a Feb. 25 debate hosted by WRAL.
Former State Rep. Deborah Ross, who is leading in polls and fundraising, has not yet agreed to participate; her campaign says it’s still considering the invitations.
That prompted criticism from Griffin this week. “Since this race started, Deborah Ross has made little or no effort to appear on stage alongside her primary opponents,” campaign manager Jeff Worcester said in a news release.