Politics & Government

May 20, 2014

Davis, Abbott spar over gubernatorial debates

Wendy Davis had balked at debate requests but now proposes having six. Abbott has agreed to two — one in South Texas and one in Dallas.

The debate over gubernatorial debates continues.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Wendy Davis called on Attorney General Greg Abbott to join her in a series of six debates before voters head to the polls in November to choose the state’s 48th governor.

The Fort Worth Democrat’s proposal, which came one day after her Republican opponent announced that he had agreed to participate in two statewide debates, was quickly rejected.

“General Abbott has already committed to two statewide televised debates, and therefore we must respectfully decline your proposal,” according to a letter sent out by Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager.

Davis responded that Abbott isn’t just turning down her request — he’s really turning down Texans.

“He’s hiding,” she said. “He’s too afraid to speak for himself, and he’s clearly too afraid to explain his record to Texans. But given his record, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

“He needs to act like a Texan and debate me,” she said. “It’s not just a choice between two different paths; it’s a choice between two different visions, and people deserve to see them side by side.”

Gubernatorial candidates traditionally participate in a handful of debates, although Gov. Rick Perry declined to debate former Houston Mayor Bill White in 2010 because the Democrat didn’t release decades-old tax returns.

Other candidates in this year’s governor’s race include Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer.

Different plans

On Monday, Abbott announced that he had agreed to participate in two statewide televised debates — one Sept. 19 in McAllen, to be hosted by The Monitor of McAllen, KGBT-TV Action 4 News and KLTM Telemundo 40, and one Oct. 3 in Dallas, to be hosted by WFAA.

After his announcement, some criticized Davis for not locking in debates as well.

On Tuesday, Davis laid out her plan to hold debates in Dallas-Fort Worth, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and Lubbock.

She said she would like the first debate held in the Rio Grande Valley in July and hosted by The Monitor, KGBT and KTLM.

Davis said she would like for the debates to run from July to October, with two to focus on education and economic opportunity and two more to be 90-minute town hall formats.

She said she’d like at least one conducted in English but simulcast in Spanish. And she would like to discuss other debate invitations, including those from KERA and WFAA.

“This November, Texans will elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years,” Davis said from her new campaign office in Dallas. “Given the choice they face this fall, all Texans — not just a few — should have the opportunity to hear directly from the two of us in order to compare our records and visions for moving Texas forward.”

Abbott’s campaign called Davis’ offer of multiple debates “eleventh-hour political theater” and noted that she has “ducked invitations to participate in debates” for six weeks.

“Our campaign will not waver on those commitments,” Hamilton wrote. “We hope you can recognize the need to participate and engage with Texas voters across our state.”

Debate impact

Generally, debates don’t greatly affect election results — unless someone makes a serious error.

And traditionally, the person in the lead seeks as few debates as possible.

“Most studies show that debates in partisan general elections rarely determine who wins or loses unless one of the candidates commits a serious gaffe in the debate, something that does happen on rare occasions,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“Debates are rarely game-changers, but for trailing candidates like Wendy Davis, they represent an opportunity, albeit scant, to inflict a mortal wound on their favored opponent or for their opponent to suffer a serious self-inflicted wound.”

Political visit

The continuing talk about debates came as Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for lieutenant governor, planned to attend a fundraising reception Tuesday night at the Rose Marine Theater in Fort Worth.

In November, Van de Putte, of San Antonio, will face the winner of the May 27 Republican Party primary runoff between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston.

To attend Van de Putte’s fundraiser, which was closed to the media, attendees either bought a $100 ticket or spent $1,000 to help host the event.

Davis said she believes Van de Putte is right for Texas.

“I’m very pleased to be joined on the Democratic ticket by Leticia Van de Putte,” Davis said. “And I believe that in November … Leticia Van de Putte will be the choice for Texans.”

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