For the first time in decades, there will be no debate or face-to-face forum for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District race because the incumbent is refusing to participate.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ campaign said Wednesday she will not be able to debate Democratic challenger Daryl Romeyn “due to scheduling constraints.”
McMorris Rodgers, seeking her fourth term in the House, declined to participate in one proposed televised debate, a one-hour question-and-answer session planned for next week on KSPS and KXLY-TV.
She also turned down other forums with Romeyn, a novice candidate she outpolled nearly 5 to 1 in the primary, and over whom she holds a 100-to-1 advantage in campaign contributions, according to the latest spending reports.
“I don’t think that’s the way American democracy works,” said Romeyn, a former television weatherman and outdoor reporter. “They must feel putting her out there (in a debate) would do more damage than holding her back.”
McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday that her campaign had waited to commit because Romeyn was slow to file reports with the Federal Election Commission after he won the primary, and “we weren’t sure how serious of a candidate he was.” The campaign then tried to identify some dates but couldn’t fit them in with other scheduled events.
“We’re on the campaign trail. We’re talking with people every day,” she said after making an appearance at the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association meeting.
Some forums, including one sponsored by the Spokane League of Women Voters, occurred while McMorris Rodgers was in Washington, D.C., for a congressional session that lasted much of September. But others have been held or were scheduled after the House adjourned Sept. 30.
Romeyn said when McMorris Rodgers refuses to appear, sponsors often drop him from the program. “That denies me a voice as well,” he said. “It’s almost as if this race doesn’t exist.”
Jill Johnson, producer for the planned debate, said she contacted both campaigns a few days after the Aug. 17 primary. Romeyn agreed quickly; the McMorris Rodgers campaign said it couldn’t commit right away.
“I was never told they would do a debate,” Johnson said. But the campaign did not decline, either, and asked her to push back the proposed date, which she did.
The stations scheduled it for Oct. 19; the McMorris Rodgers campaign declined Monday. The station will likely air a rerun of the debate between Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi in the time slot it set aside for the House debate.
Debates have been a mainstay of Eastern Washington congressional campaigns for decades. McMorris Rodgers debated in her three previous congressional campaigns, including three in five days with 2008 opponent Mark Mays. Republican George Nethercutt, who held the seat for 10 years before she did, debated opponents in every election, including nine debates when he defeated House Speaker Tom Foley.
Foley had said in his first campaign in 1964 that an incumbent has an obligation to debate an opponent so voters can compare them. Foley never refused to debate, although challengers sometimes declined.