The leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate and governor aren’t saying whether they’ll participate in TV debates this month.
WRAL and Time Warner Cable News plan to hold Senate Democratic primary debates, and TWC also plans one for the two Democrats running for governor.
No formal debates are in the works for the Republican primaries, where incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr face challengers.
While the Democratic debate invitations were issued months ago, former state Rep. Deborah Ross, running for Senate, and Attorney General Roy Cooper, running for governor, haven’t agreed to participate – but they haven’t formally declined either. Gubernatorial candidate Ken Spaulding and Senate hopefuls Chris Rey and Kevin Griffin plan to participate in all debates.
Cooper’s campaign did not respond to multiple News & Observer inquiries about the matter.
“The Cooper campaign is aware of our efforts, and they said they would communicate with me later,” TWC news director Rick Willis said.
Time Warner plans to host the Senate hopefuls on Feb. 29 and the candidates for governor on March 1. Both debates will be at High Point University, with the League of Women Voters as a co-sponsor.
Ross’ campaign manager, Dave Hoffman, said he wants more details about how the Time Warner debate will work.
“We are awaiting some further information from them about their proposed format and things like that,” Hoffman said, adding that he’s concerned about TWC requiring a polling and fundraising threshold that could exclude some candidates. “My preference would be that all the candidates that have filed for the office would be included in them.”
The requirements could exclude Ernest Reeves, a retired Army captain from Greenville who is the least known of the four Democrats running for Senate.
WRAL plans to host a Senate Democrats debate on Feb. 25 at the station’s Raleigh studio. Hoffman said the Ross campaign has received WRAL’s invitation but is still “looking into our availability.”
WRAL won’t have debates in the governor’s race but will have the Republicans and Democrats running for governor as well as the Republicans running for U.S. Senate on the station’s Saturday evening talk show “On The Record.”
“The ‘On the Record’ shows will not follow a debate format,” news director Rick Gall said.
Spaulding, who’s far behind Cooper in polls and fundraising, has for months been calling for debates.
“I’m not aware of any reason why Roy Cooper should be afraid to debate me,” Spaulding said in October. “If he’s unwilling to debate me, then what on earth is he going to be able to do when he’s being challenged by the Republicans and the sitting governor?”
Spaulding and Cooper appeared together for the first time last week at a standing-room-only forum at N.C. Democratic Party headquarters. All four Senate candidates also participated.
It’s common for candidates with a wide lead to decline debates with their lesser-known opponents. But sitting out can lead to criticism: In 2014, Sen. Kay Hagan opted out of a debate with opponent Thom Tillis. Tillis then appeared alone on TWC News alongside an empty chair. The two had debated on other occasions, but Hagan’s campaign said the TWC event wasn’t among the events they’d agreed on.