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The Great Debate Debate

Team McSally neglects to commit to TV debate, demands more debates

A debate over debates has broken out in the race between Democratic Congressman Ron Barber and his Republican challenger, Martha McSally.

On Sept. 4, Team Barber challenged McSally to two debates. Later that day, Team McSally responded with a demand for four debates. Team Barber eventually agreed to three debates and Team McSally has continued to needle Team Barber about a potential fourth debate.

But a representative from the League of Women Voters told the Weekly that one of the three Congressional District 2 debates, scheduled for last Sunday, Sept. 28, had to be called off because Team McSally would not commit to participating.

Bob Richardson said he sent both campaigns a registered letter on Sept. 4 that asked them to commit by Sept. 12 to a debate on Sept. 28 that would be televised by KVOA-TV. Team Barber agreed to the debate, but Richardson didn't hear back from Team McSally by the deadline, so he took the extra step of contacting McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak to try to set up a debate.

Richardson, who worked in TV news for decades, said that he made multiple efforts to get the McSally campaign to confirm their participation in the debate, but Ptak would not commit to the event.

"I talked to him several times and he never would commit to it," Richardson said.

Richardson added that KVOA staff also tried to confirm the debate with Team McSally, but could not get an agreement to participate. On Friday, Sept. 19, a KVOA staffer let Ptak know that he didn't hear back with a confirmation by the end of the day, KVOA would have to back out of participating in the debate, according to Richardson.

A KVOA producer called Richardson on Monday, Sept. 22, to let him know that they had not heard back from Team McSally and were going to have to back out of the debate, so the League of Women Voters canceled the event, according to Richardson.

The Weekly reached out to KVOA News Director Cathie Batbie to learn more about KVOA's role in the debate scheduling, but didn't hear back as of deadline.

Richardson said Ptak had said that Team McSally had some concerns about whether the Sept. 28 date worked, but he never asked about alternative dates.

In a statement to the Weekly, Ptak didn't address Richardson's account of the negotiations over the debate but said the campaign was "surprised and disappointed to hear news that it was cancelled."

Ptak added that "Barber agreed to three debates. We're calling on him to honor that agreement and debate Martha on the number one issue for voters—job creation."

Last Friday, Sept. 26, Ptak sent out a press release once again challenging Barber to a debate to be hosted by the Tucson Metro Chamber and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Team Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn said Barber had been "looking forward to the League of Women Voters debate."

Nash-Hahn mocked Team McSally's failure to say yes to the opportunity for a televised debate last week.

"Who could possibly keep track of Martha McSally's endless twists and turns over whether she will debate, or when, or where?" Nash-Hahn added. "McSally and her Washington, D.C. operatives would rather play games with Southern Arizona then talk openly about the issues facing our community. This is truly a missed opportunity for the honest and rigorous debate that Southern Arizona deserves."

There are now two debates scheduled between Barber and McSally. They will meet for an Arizona Public Media televised debate from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, on PBS 6, and again on 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at Sierra Vista's Buena High School in Cochise County.

More by Jim Nintzel

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