Abbott Waffles on Debating Davis

Guv. candidate can't decide if he's up for a debate

Abbott (l) and Davis
Abbott (l) and Davis
Photos by Jana Birchum/John Anderson

Is Attorney General Greg Abbott serious about a televised debate for the governor's race? This week he has hemmed, hawed, and backflipped on his commitment to face Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, leaving even fellow Republicans wondering why he will not be recorded before a live studio audience.

In May, Abbott and Davis played a game of debate chicken: Abbott wanted two televised events, while Davis countered with a schedule of six. Abbott refused to engage, and so they settled on two dates (see "The Debating Game," May 19). The first was to be Sept. 19 in McAllen, hosted by The McAllen Monitor, KGBT-TV Action 4 News, and KLTM Telemundo 40: This debate would be broadcast only locally, with live Internet streaming video for audiences beyond the Rio Grande Valley. The second was to be Oct. 3 in Dallas, hosted by the Texas Tribune and WFAA-TV, to be rebroadcast statewide on all Gannett stations in Texas, including KVUE in Austin.

However, those plans were far from set in stone. On July 10, the Monitor reported that the candidates had agreed to most terms, including relocating the debate to Edinburg. However, Abbott refused to have an in-studio audience, and so negotiations seemingly collapsed. As for the Dallas debate, it was rescheduled for Sept. 30; then, on Aug. 29, Abbott backed out, citing concerns about the format that he had agreed to months ago.

That was not the end of Abbott's gameplaying. First, the Monitor said the Valley debate was still on. Then Abbott unilaterally announced he was committing to a different statewide Sept. 30 event, one he had previously rejected, this time sponsored by KERA, NBC5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39, and The Dal­las Morning News. Davis' campaign was dismissive of this inexplicable bait-and-switch. Spokesman Zac Petkanas said, "Greg Abbott's commitments don't mean very much."

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, voiced astonishment that Abbott was so eager to avoid a studio audience. She said, "How can you be a former justice and an attorney general, and not be a debater?" Even a few Republicans rolled their eyes at Abbott's bizarre maneuvering. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said, "I'm a staunch Repub­lican, but this is one more embarrassing move by a Republican candidate that either can't or won't defend his position on the issues."

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Kathie Glass came up with her own proposal to fix the impasse: If Davis and Abbott can't be in the same room, she offered to debate each separately. "Problem solved."

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