Elkhart Truth: Debate sponsors worry 16 weeks after invitation

The American Democracy Project and area League of Women Voters are concerned that U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski has not yet accepted their invitation to debate Democratic nominee Mel Hall.

The organizations invited both candidates on May 9, the day after the Indiana primaries. The invitation included specific venues in the district, such as the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart, as well as possible dates for each venue.

“Allowing the community to actually be able to attend these events is what becomes difficult in terms of waiting to schedule – not only in getting it on their calendars, but also in reserving venues that are big enough,” said Elizabeth Bennion, director of the American Democracy Project at Indiana University South Bend and director of the League of Women Voters in the South Bend area.

The organizations are sponsoring numerous debates with candidates from different parties. Bennion said no candidate has ever raised any concern with the groups about their fairness or ability. In fact, candidates from different parties have asked them to host debates for them, she said.

Walorski did participate in a debate sponsored by those groups when she ran for Congress in 2010. She also debated on WNIT in 2012, when she first won the seat. Since then she has not participated in debates for a congressional race.

“It is in some ways about ‘we the people’ and whether we, the people, demand that candidates, as part of running for national office, engage in public debates,” Bennion said. “We expect this from presidential candidates, senate candidates, council candidates and school board candidates. We don’t believe that the candidates for the House should be any different.”

Mel Hall has accepted the invitation from the American Democracy Project and the League of Women Voters.

On July 20, organizers announced that both candidates had agreed to have three debates, but on Monday last week the Hall campaign claimed Walorski was stalling the debate negotiations.

Walorski’s campaign manager, Stephen Simonetti, said the two campaigns are in contact to “work out details” for the debates, but Andrew Galo, communications director for the Hall campaign, on Friday said the Walorski campaign had not reached out since Hall complained.

Simonetti did not answer questions concerning any reservations the Walorski campaign might have with the proposed debates. Instead, he referred to a statement the campaign issued Tuesday about Walorski’s eagerness to talk about the issues.

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