Texas gubernatorial candidates spar over debates



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Posted on May 20, 2014 at 2:12 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 20 at 11:17 PM

DALLAS – State Sen. Wendy Davis proposed having six gubernatorial debates with her Republican rival, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, between July and October.

“Texas is the second largest state in the nation, and I believe that six debates will give people from all parts of the state an opportunity to see for themselves which of us will fight harder for all Texans,” Davis told reporters inside her new Dallas headquarters Tuesday morning.

But Abbott dismissed Davis’ proposal saying has already accepted invitations for two debates; one on September 19 hosted by the McAllen Monitor in the Rio Grande Valley and the other on October 3 hosted by WFAA-TV and The Texas Tribune in Dallas.

"For more than six weeks, Sen. Davis has ducked invitations to participate in debates. Now, after Greg Abbott has taken the lead on this issue by accepting two statewide televised debates, the Davis campaign is trying to obscure their unresponsiveness with 11th-hour political theater,” said Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch.

Despite Tuesday’s proposal, Davis has yet to accept any existing debate invitations.

She told reporters she is interested in the one in McAllen, but wants it rescheduled for July. Davis said she would still “like to discuss other debate invitations, including those from KERA and WFAA.”

In her letter to Abbott, Davis proposes having debates not only in the Rio Grande Valley and Dallas-Fort Worth, but also San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and Lubbock. It is unclear if any organizations in those cities have immediately stepped forward and are willing to organize such an event.

Davis also said she wanted at least two of the debates to focus on education and economic opportunity, one to be simulcast in English and Spanish and another to happen at a community college on a weekend, so parents can attend.

“Your campaign’s public commitment to multiple debates gives me confidence that you share my eagerness to engage as many voters as possible in this manner for Election Day,” Davis wrote to Abbott.

Within an hour of receiving her letter, Abbott's campaign manager Wayne Hamilton responded.

“As you know, two invitations for statewide debates were established weeks ago, and our campaign will not waver on those commitments,” Hamilton wrote.

"He needs to act like a true Texan and debate me, and I'm calling on him to do just that," Davis told an overflow crowd of more than 100 supporters at her Dallas headquarters Tuesday night. "I see a campaign where Greg Abbott is hiding from voters."

The race has quickly become a debate over debates as both campaigns still appear to be far apart on when and where to discuss the actual issues.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com