Republican candidate Greg Abbott has reversed his decision to appear in the only gubernatorial debate scheduled to be broadcast statewide on television.
Abbott and his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, had both agreed to participate in a Sept. 30 roundtable debate in Dallas.
But on Friday morning, Abbott’s team said it would not participate, expressing concern over the format.
“Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate,” Robert Black, a senior campaign adviser said Friday morning.
Black, Abbott’s new debate consultant, joined the campaign on Aug. 4.
On May 28, Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager, sent a letter to WFAA accepting the terms of the debate.
“From grassroots events to policy announcements and roundtable discussions, we have made our personal engagement with voters a focal point,” Hamilton wrote to WFAA in May.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate,” said Mike Devlin, president and general manager of WFAA-TV. “WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.”
Here’s WFAA’s coverage of Abbott’s cut and run. Note the letter they include at the bottom in which Abbott’s campaign accepted the invitation to debate.
Later in the day, the story got a bit more complicated.
The Dallas debate was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 and would have been broadcast on all of Texas’ Gannett stations including WFAA-TV in Dallas – Fort Worth, KHOU-TV in Houston, KENS-TV in San Antonio, KVUE-TV in Austin, along with other affiliates in Amarillo, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Tyler.
Outside of those Gannett markets the debate was going to be available to any radio and television station in the state. In addition, the debate would have been streamed on-line at all of the Gannett websites in Texas.
Gannett stations currently reach 83% of Texans.
Late Friday afternoon, Abbott announced that Dallas’ PBS affiliate, KERA-TV, has agreed to host a formal debate on September 30. Davis did not immediately agree to it after committing to the first one that Abbott backed out of today.
“Voters deserve a thoughtful and substantive policy discussion on how the next governor will lead Texas. Greg Abbott looks forward to sharing his vision for Texas’ future and participating in the upcoming debates,” said Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager in an emailed statement.
Gannett guaranteed live coverage on all 10 of its television stations in Texas which reach 83% of the state. It’s uncertain if any television station outside North Texas has agreed to simulcast KERA’s debate.
The Davis campaign shot back at Abbott following the KERA-TV debate announcement.
“There have been reports that the Abbott campaign has ‘committed’ to another debate, but as we learned today Greg Abbott’s commitments don’t mean very much,” said Zac Petkanas, communications director for the Davis campaign in a statement late Friday afternoon. “Wendy Davis has already committed the evening of September 30 to a debate on WFAA. The station has asked to have a discussion on Tuesday, September 2, to discuss options given the recent developments and, as Wendy Davis is someone who honors her commitments, the campaign looks forward to having that discussion.”
The Quorum Report characterized this as Abbott “hurriedly setting up another debate and then announcing it”. Lord only knows what they’re thinking over there. We’ll see what happens next.
Just as the timing of the school finance decision worked in favor of Wendy Davis and her education policies rollout this week, it works against Abbott, who of course was on the losing side in the lawsuit. Hard not to connect the two, no matter how much he’d deny it. Chalk this up as another way in which Greg Abbott is like Rick Perry, as if there had been any doubt. There will still be one debate, in McAllen on September 19, assuming Abbott doesn’t try to weasel out of it as well. PDiddie, John Coby, Juanita, BOR, Trail Blazers, the AusChron, the Trib, and the Current have more.