Incumbent U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown, her Democratic opponent, have agreed to meet in four debates during the final two months of the campaign for Eastern Washington’s seat in Congress.
One of the debates will be held Sept. 19 at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane, hosted by The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-TV.
Not included in the lineup is an event that would have been hosted by the Gonzaga University School of Law and the League of Women Voters.
Jared Powell, a spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, said the four events are more than the Republican seven-term congresswoman has participated in during previous election campaigns.
“Typically, there’s only three,” Powell said. “We’re doing more than we’ve done in the past.”
The McMorris Rodgers campaign took to Twitter on Thursday evening to emphasize that point.
“I’ve participated in debates every election, and after record breaking turnout in the #wa05 primary from both sides of the aisle, it was no question I’d do more than ever before,” the McMorris Rodgers campaign account tweeted.
The Brown campaign has been pushing for additional events outside those held by traditional groups, which has included Greater Spokane Incorporated and the local chapter of the Rotary Club.
The Democrat has agreed to debates initially proposed by the congresswoman after her first-place performance in the August primary, but also requested dates hosted by the Coalition of Color and a college campus within the district, whether that’s a community college or Washington State University in Pullman.
“We’ve agreed to every debate on her terms,” said Tanya Riordan, Brown’s campaign manager, on Thursday. “We would really like a debate on a college campus and with other constituent organizations, so that they have an opportunity to see both candidates.”
The candidates are finalizing the details of the confirmed debates, Powell said.
An event is scheduled for the evening of Oct. 17, hosted by Greater Spokane Inc., and at noon the following day, hosted by the Rotary Club. Powell said the campaign intends to make those events available for viewing by the general public through media partners.
The campaigns also agreed to a debate in Walla Walla at the local chamber of commerce Oct. 24. The time and potential broadcast schedule for that event has yet to be determined.
Brown has confirmed an appearance Oct. 9, hosted by the Spokane Coalition of Color. The advocacy group is made up of representatives from the Spokane chapters of the NAACP, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition and the Hispanic Business/Professional Association.
“We feel that we need both perspectives, and it’s important to have both perspectives,” said Rowena Pineda, an organizer with the Coalition of Color working on organizing what she called a candidate forum. There would be preset questions as well as an opportunity for audience members to ask about topics that Pineda said would be geared toward addressing the concerns of minority communities in the region.
One debate that won’t take place is a contest that has been hosted in the past by the law school, the League of Women Voters and KXLY. Stephen Sepinuck, a Gonzaga professor who helped organize previous debates in the district with those partners, said it was unfortunate the congresswoman declined their request. Brown accepted the invitation.
KXLY is instead finalizing details to broadcast the Greater Spokane event on Oct. 17, said Melissa Luck, news director for the local ABC affiliate.
The groups sponsored a nationally televised debate between George Nethercutt and Rep. Tom Foley in 1994, a few weeks before Nethercutt’s historic upset, and again in 2004 when Nethercutt ran against Sen. Patty Murray for her seat.
“I’m sure they get a lot of requests. I have no doubt about that,” Sepinuck said. “I don’t think every request is equal.”
The Gonzaga debate would not have followed the “town hall” format, Sepinuck said, instead relying upon panelists to pepper the candidates with questions. The format would have included time for follow-up questions and would have been geared more toward governing philosophy questions than strictly on policy, he said.
“This is the third time these organizations have come together, and this is the first time our request has been denied,” Sepinuck said.
Pamela Behring, the president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, said they were also disappointed by the decision. The league has asked the congresswoman to appear at their own, independent events during past general elections, but those invitations haven’t been accepted.
“We did ask immediately after the election results were in, and we did open it up to her preferences,” Behring said.
Powell, the spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, pointed out that Congress will continue to be in session throughout the fall, and the congresswoman couldn’t neglect her duties in Washington, D.C., to campaign.
“She has a job to do, the people elected her for a two-year term,” Powell said. “She needs to be in Washington, D.C., advocating for their interests.”
Riordan, Brown’s campaign manager, asked if four events were enough for all those hoping to hear from candidates before they vote in what is shaping up to be the most competitive race for Eastern Washington’s seat in more than a decade.
“We think as a candidate, and a current congresswoman, she should be open to meeting and engaging with constituents, to reach as many voters as possible,” Riordan said.
Congress is scheduled to reconvene Tuesday after its annual August recess that lasted all month. The Spokesman-Review event is scheduled during the only district work week Congress has scheduled for September. The chamber is scheduled to meet for the first two months of October before a recess lasting through the November midterms.
Powell noted that McMorris Rodgers will hold a town hall geared toward veterans on Friday in Walla Walla, her 12th such event this year.
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