Under the Dome

Ross, Cooper won’t agree to League of Women Voters debates

Roy Cooper greets supporters as he comes to the stage to announce he is running for Governor at an event at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, NC on Oct. 12, 2015.
Roy Cooper greets supporters as he comes to the stage to announce he is running for Governor at an event at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, NC on Oct. 12, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

Only one televised debate in North Carolina this primary season will feature all candidates.

All four Democrats running for U.S. Senate have agreed to attend a Feb. 25 WRAL debate at the station’s Raleigh studio.

Meanwhile, the two candidates leading in the polls – Senate candidate Deborah Ross and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper – haven’t agreed to debates hosted by the League of Women Voters and Time Warner Cable News. Those are scheduled for Feb. 29 and March 1 at High Point University.

Cooper’s campaign said he declined the debate invitation because “Roy Cooper has already shared the stage with (primary opponent Ken) Spaulding four times.”

Cooper has attended several events that also included Spaulding, but none were televised. Spaulding, who trails Cooper in all polls of the race, has repeatedly called for a debate.

Ross has not agreed to the League of Women Voters event, and her campaign has voiced concerns about eligibility requirements that would likely shut out long-shot candidate Ernest Reeves, a military veteran from Greenville.

“Deborah has already participated in one debate with all the candidates and she plans to participate in another WRAL debate which includes all candidates,” Ross campaign spokesman Austin Vevurka said. “We hope that Time Warner Cable will consider extending invitations to all the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.”

The gubernatorial debate will likely be canceled because the League of Women Voters’ rules don’t allow for single-candidate debates. And if Ross and Reeves aren’t participating, the group’s Senate debate will feature a one-on-one between Chris Rey and Kevin Griffin.

TWC news director Rick Willis said Tuesday that the debate schedule hasn’t changed and that the sponsors are “still in conversations with the campaigns.”

No debates will feature the Republican primary candidates in the two top statewide races. Both Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s campaigns told TWC News that they would not agree to any debate invitations before the primary, so none were organized.

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