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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

McMorris Rodgers won’t debate before primary

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said she wants to debate her opponent in this year's election -- but only after the primary.

The five-term incumbent Republican responded to a challenge from independent Dave Wilson, who wanted to debate five times before the primary and five times after it. She has a less ambitious counter.

"I was planning on writing to discuss debates as soon as we are certain who the candidates will be in November," she said in a letter to Wilson that welcomed him to the campaign. "I am committed to doing all I can for Eastern Washington during July's busy congressional schedule but am eager for debates in the fall."

Wilson said he was disappointed at her refusal to debate before the primary, and found her response "a little trite." But he added: "I was surprised I heard anything at all from her."

McMorris Rodgers has never failed to debate an opponent in a congressional campaign, although she has had a few dust-ups over scheduling in recent elections . . . 

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In running for the open congressional seat in 2004 she debated her two Republican rivals several times before the primary and Democrat nominee Don Barbieri at least four times after it. Two years later she debated or attended joint appearances with Democratic opponent Peter Goldmark at least four times after the primary. In 2008 she participated in three debates or forums in five days with Democratic opponent Mark Mays. 

But in 2010 she agreed to only one debate with Democrat Darryl Romeyn, and that was only after first she refused a scheduled televised debate citing a previous commitment because she had doubts Romeyn was a serious candidate even though he had finished ahead of four other challengers in the primary. She eventually agreed to the debate only to have Romeyn say he'd scheduled something after she'd canceled and couldn't attend. Eventually the two did debate. Once.

In 2012, Democrat Rich Cowan challenged her to 10 debates -- like Wilson, he wanted one in each of the congressional district's counties -- and she countered with two. She said she'd do 10 with Cowan if he could convince Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell to accept Republican opponent Mike Baumgartner's challenge to debate in all 39 counties. She and Cowan debated twice, once on public television and once at a Greater Spokane Inc. forum, over a three-day period in mid October.

McMorris Rodgers hasn't debated before the primary since Washington voters adopted the current system that sends to top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of the party they say they prefer. This year's race for Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District has four candidates: Democrat Joe Pakootas and Republican Tom Horne as well as McMorris Rodgers and Wilson.

Wilson said the three challengers attended one debate already in Spokane and all candidates have invitations to debates in Republic, Colville, Clarkston and Pullman next month in advance of the Aug. 5 primary. The official congressional work schedule shows the House in session for most weekdays starting July 8. 



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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