House Speaker Thom Tillis is planning to skip a major U.S. Senate debate ahead of the Republican primary May 6.
WRAL is hosting a televised candidate debate April 23, one of only three scheduled in the high-profile race to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan. It will feature other leading contenders, Greg Brannon, Mark Harris and Heather Grant.
A Tillis campaign spokesman confirmed the candidate would not attend. “We were unable to make the WRAL debate work due to scheduling conflicts, but we are looking forward to participating in two other debates that we have committed to,” said Jordan Shaw.
The campaign told WRAL it had a “long-standing commitment” April 23. Shaw declined to provide more details about the commitment.
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Tillis’ absence provoked a response from Harris, who was a late addition to the WRAL debate after polling showed he crossed the station’s 10 percent threshold.
“While Mr. Tillis skips one of the biggest televised debates, voters of North Carolina can only wonder why he has chosen not to take part,” he said in a statement. “As candidates, we must take every opportunity to talk with voters, answer their questions, and prove that not only are we capable, but that we also have nothing to hide. With so many lingering questions surrounding Mr. Tillis, this recent decision only strengthens the notion that he is disconnected from the voters of our state.”
The first debate – hosted by The News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and Time Warner Cable – is scheduled April 22 at Davidson College. With Tillis missing the WRAL event, it is the only debate before early voting begins April 24 that will feature all four top candidates.
UNC-TV will host a third debate featuring Harris, Brannon and Tillis on April 28.
WRAL said it invited Tillis on Feb. 27. It will air live on the CBS affiliate stations in the Raleigh and Wilmington media markets, a massive reach in a race where roughly 1 out of 3 voters remain undecided.
Tillis, who leads in early polls and fundraising, has skipped numerous Republican and conservative forums since the beginning of the year – including one Friday in Wake County – despite saying he was “chomping at the bit” to debate.
In a recent interview, Tillis said his campaign has a “no cancellation” policy.