ATLANTA -- A spokesman for Republican challenger Lee Anderson told the nation’s second-largest press club that he is declining an invitation to debate the man he wants to unseat, Democratic Congressman John Barrow.
The Atlanta Press Club’s Oct. 21 debate would be televised throughout the whole district on Georgia Public Broadcasting, unlike local media outlets that only reach voters in various parts of the 12th District. Anderson participated in the club’s debate during the primary.
Anderson spokesman Ryan Mahoney sent club Executive Director Lauri Strauss a one-line email on Friday that offered no reasons.
“Thank you for your e-mail. At this time, we respectfully decline the invitation to the Oct. 21st Press Club Debate. Best, Ryan,” he wrote.
Monday, he noted that Barrow had skipped debates by the Atlanta club in the last two elections.
Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo said Monday that the congressman would accept the invitation if Anderson does but that a trip to Atlanta would otherwise be difficult in the last days of a campaign.
“We’re hoping that Mr. Anderson will change his mind. If he’ll accept it, we’ll accept it,” Carbo said.
He said four or five organizations in the district have also issued invitations to debates.
Because of its reputation and statewide audience, the Press Club often hosts the only debate that some candidates decide to participate in. Its debate committee picks panelists from veteran journalists with a geographic, racial and gender balance to ensure the process is fair to all candidates.
Its debates are unusual in that they allow candidates to ask each other questions, which sometimes adds sparks or pins down a position on a critical issue.
With national interest in Barrow’s position as the only white Democrat in the deep South, the Press Club expected C-SPAN to also air the debate and network affiliates based in Atlanta to cover it. That broader exposure could provide exposure to whoever wins the election as he is attempting to carve out a role in the next Congress.
Anderson’s campaign has responded to past debate invitations - made by Augusta ABC affiliate WJBF and The Statesboro Herald - by saying he would only participate if Barrow appeared on camera to say who he is supporting for speaker of the House.
“Lee Anderson will consider sharing the stage with Barrow once he stands in front of a local television camera and confesses his politically disastrous secret – he’s voting for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi,” Mahoney said in a statement.
Carbo said the congressman has already said he would not vote for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and that he didn’t vote for her to be speaker in the last election. He can’t say who he would vote for because he doesn’t know who will run for the post, a contest that shapes up after the November elections, Carbo said.
Anderson’s camp wants Barrow to talk on camera about his position on President Obama, putting the Democrat in the position of choosing between alienating conservative voters or alienating the president who could decide the fate of a federal harbor-deepening project along the Savannah River.
Barrow would be willing to debate those issues face to face if Anderson would agree, Carbo said.
Carbo characterized as a dodge the conditions that Anderson’s campaign is demanding.
“Absolutely, I think it’s an effort to find an excuse not to debate,” Carbo said.
Mahoney denies that, noting that Anderson participated in 17 forums in the primary and has served in local and state office long enough for people to know his views. Instead, he said a debate with Barrow would not serve voters.
“It has nothing to do with debating skills. It has to do with giving a platform for someone who can’t tell the truth,” he said.
Staff writer Susan McCord contributed to this article