United States Senate seats | Candidates hope absence from debates will be a winning strategy

(Atlanta) Ted Budd skipped four Republican primary debates in the race for a US Senate seat in North Carolina. Republican governor candidates from Ohio, Nevada, and Nebraska also declined to oppose their opponents from the debate podium.

Posted at 10:06 am

Sudhin Thanawala
Associated Press

And Tuesday, Herschel Walker is expected to miss a second debate against his Republican rivals for a crucial U.S. Senate seat after skipping the first.

As the most competitive phase of the primary season unfolds this week, many candidates for major offices — often Republicans — are abandoning the tradition of debating with their rivals before Election Day.

For some gaffe-prone candidates like Mr. Walker, skipping the debate phase reduces the chance of an awkward moment. For others, it’s an opportunity to disapprove of a media ecosystem they find elitist and to fit in the mold of former President Donald Trump, who caused a stir by missing certain debates during the campaign.

The Republican National Committee is already on track for a withdrawal from the 2024 presidential debates, though the final decision will likely rest with whoever is running as the party’s nominee.

But some of the Republicans still involved in the process say skipping debates could ultimately leave potential candidates vulnerable to a general election, unprepared to answer tough questions or engage with rivals in a way that would leave voters out. appeal to the party base.

“If you can’t get on the podium and debate with your fellow Republicans, how the hell are you going to debate Raphael Warnock in the general election? asked Latham Saddler, one of five Republicans who challenged Mr. Walker, referring to the current Democratic senator.

“When you hide, you’re usually hiding for a reason,” Saddler said in an interview.

Mr Walker has a significant lead over his rivals for the May 24 primary. His campaign, despite repeated requests, did not yield an interview to The Associated Press, including for this article. But after coming under fire from his rivals during the first Republican debate in Georgia in April, also for his absence, Mr. Walker told Access radio station WDUN that his opponents were jealous.

“Because Herschel is going to win that seat now,” he said in an April 20 interview with Newsroom. “They can’t win, so they turn to the old politics, and people are fed up. †

While some of those who skipped debates were Republicans, some Democrats followed a similar strategy. In Pennsylvania, where the primary will be held on May 17, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman skipped a debate last month and said he chose to participate in three more debates because they will have greater televised coverage. †

A spokesman for Ted Budd, Jonathan Felts, said that instead of attending the debates, the candidate focused on completing his tour of North Carolina counties so he could speak directly with voters.

In Mr Walker’s case, his reticence goes beyond the debate. He does not publicize his campaign widely and limits his appearances mainly to conservative media and a sympathetic audience. Campaign spokeswoman Mallory Blount said by email last week that Mr Walker had participated in more than 105 interviews.

“The suggestion that Mr. Herschel is unavailable is a lie,” she said. “He interviews and answers questions for thousands of Georgians as he travels across the state every week. †

But when Mr. Walker speaks, there can be awkward moments.

He mischaracterized the late Congressman John Lewis as a senator, saying the suffrage activist’s eponymous electoral law — the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — “doesn’t match what John Lewis is.”

Mr. Walker recently questioned evolution at a religious meeting, questioning why monkeys would still exist if humans evolved from them. And he told a reporter in January that it was “unfair” to ask him if he would have voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill because he hadn’t had the “privilege” of getting all the facts about the measure. The bill was passed in November.

Mr Walker, a former college football player at the University of Georgia, did not graduate from the institution, but said he did — a lie initially echoed by his campaign on a website promoting his candidacy for the Senate. He repeatedly made false accusations of voter fraud on his Twitter account after Mr. Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden in the presidential election. In a post, he suggested that people in several states should be given the opportunity to vote again.

His status as a Georgian sports legend, along with Mr Trump’s endorsement, made him the Republican frontrunner once he entered the race in August.

By limiting questions and access, discussions about his tumultuous past can be avoided. Officers who responded to a call that Mr. Walker was armed and frightened his ex-wife at a home in suburban Dallas in 2001 later noted that Mr. Walker “talked about a gunfight with police according to a police report submitted by the AP was revealed. in February. In a protective warrant filed by his then-ex-wife in 2005, Mr Walker was accused of repeatedly threatening her with life.

Mr. Walker talked about his long battle with mental illness and acknowledged his violent impulses. His campaign rejected reports of a shooting and accused the media of highlighting it.

While his absence from Republican debates is unlikely to harm Mr Walker in the primaries, a strategy similar to the general election – such as he would face Mr Warnock, a veteran orator who is pastor of one of the most important churches of Georgia — perhaps a different story, noted Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University.

Mr Walker may need to convince some voters to win what would likely be a close race, requiring him to “play the game” and answer questions, she said.

Asked about WDUN whether he would argue with Mr Warnock, Mr Walker said he was determined to do whatever it takes to win.

“So Reverend Warnock better get ready, because I’m getting ready,” he said.

Associated Press reporter Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia contributed to this story.

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