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Spin Control

No debate in the 5th Congressional District

For the first time in decades, there will be no debate or face-to-face forum for candidates in 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 debate Democratic challenger Daryl Romeyn “due to scheduling constraints.”

McMorris Rodgers, seeking her fourth term in the House where she holds a GOP leadership position, declined this week to participate in the one proposed televised debate, a one-hour question-and-answer session next week on KSPS-TV and KXLY-TV, after more than a month of discussions.

She also turned down other forums with Romeyn, a novice candidate whom she outpolled nearly 5-to-1 in the primary and holds a 100-to-1 advantage in campaign contributions in the latest spending reports.

“I don't think that's the way American democracy works,” Romeyn, a former television weatherman and outdoor reporter, said. “They must feel putting her out there (in a debate) would do more damage than holding her back.”

McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday  her campaign waited to commit to debates because Romeyn was slow to file reports with the Federal Election Commission after the primary and “we weren’t sure how serious of a candidate he was.” The campaign later tried to identify some dates but couldn’t fit them in with other scheduled read more, click here to go inside the blog.

“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, where she was introduced by someone who reminded the crowd this was an election year and McMorris Rodgers was “a strong supporter of our issues.”
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 went for 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. It’s almost as if this race doesn’t exist.”
Jill Johnson, producer for the KSPS/KXLY 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. Last week, Johnson told the McMorris Rodgers campaign she needed a decision by noon Friday; they said they couldn’t make a decision until close of business Monday. She extended the deadline and they declined after 9 p.m. Monday.
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 her 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. After winning that race, he never refused to debate although challengers sometimes declined.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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