The Austin Chronicle

The Debating Game

By Richard Whittaker, May 19, 2014, 3:45pm, Newsdesk

Wondered when Attorney General Greg Abbott and Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, will finally go face-to-face? Abbott's campaign says that he agrees to two debates in the governor's race, but he hasn't run that past his opponent yet.

Today, his campaign announced that they have two debates lined up:

Sept. 19 in McAllen, hosted by The McAllen Monitor, KGBT-TV Action 4 News and KLTM Telemundo 40

Oct. 3 at 7pm in Dallas, hosted by WFAA-TV. The debate will be rebroadcast by all Gannett stations in Texas, including KVUE in Austin.

Abbott's campaign manager Wayne Hamilton said, "Debates play an important role in allowing candidates to present themselves and their vision to the voters, and Greg Abbott is grateful for the opportunity to reach out to Texans all across this great state."

However, this is a unilateral announcement, since his Democratic opponent has not agreed to either yet. It's politically a smart move from Abbott, because it puts pressure on Davis to either agree to his fait accompli, or to raise the stakes.

It seems she's going for the latter. Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas fired back that "tomorrow, Wendy Davis will propose an unprecedented debate schedule that will give all Texans in communities across the state the opportunity to hear the clear choice they have for their next governor."

Clearly Davis' campaign will have to dramatically increase the number of debates on offer. The question then becomes, how hard can they put pressure on Abbott to play their game? Moreover, do these kind of early jostling shenanigans really matter to voters when voting day isn't for another six months?

Either way, this is a clear development over the 2010 election, when Gov. Rick Perry refused to debate former Houston mayor Bill White in the same race.

However, it raises some interesting questions about why Abbott has picked these particular locations. Dallas is obvious: Davis' back yard, but still resolutely conservative. Plus, with Gannett's acquisition of Belo last year, and six stations from London Broadcasting Company this month, it will get into a lot of homes. The McAllen selection is much more interesting. After all, Davis actually lost the Democratic primary in the Valley to Corpus Christi Municipal Court Judge Ray Madrigal, an effective outsider. This could translate into an opportunity for Abbott in what should be a Democratic heartland. On the other hand, he got pummeled by the Monitor when he said that "creeping corruption" in the border counties "resembles third-world country practices."

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