The Patch/WGTD Radio Oct. 25 debate featuring the candidates for the 1st Congressional District is off.
After an originally tentative date of Oct. 11, we had to issue a new invitation for Oct. 25 after Ryan was chosen as Republican Mitt Romney's running mate. Ryan debated Vice President Joe Biden on Oct. 11.
Kevin Seifert, Ryan's congressional campaign manager, wrote to Patch and asked us to consider alternatives if Ryan was unable to participate in person because of his schedule as the vice presidential candidate.
“I would be glad to discuss any alternatives so voters can hear where Congressman Ryan stands on the issues of importance in this election,” wrote Seifert.
After conferring with WGTD and the technical experts at Gateway Technical College in Racine, we offered two options: appear via Skype/video feed or have a campaign representative read a statement at the beginning of the debate.
All candidates were also invited to distribute campaign literature on a table.
Given the expected audience if the debate were a go, Gateway officials asked a group of public employees to move their pension seminar so the venue could accomodate an overflow crowd if necessary.
While we waited to hear whether or not Ryan would take us up on the offer, Patch also issued an invitation to Deschler to participate.
But, Zerban's campaign sent an email to Patch saying Zerban would not participate in an "empty chair" debate and that he would only participate in the same manner in which Ryan would participate.
"We are not backing out. If Congressman Ryan attends, Mr. Zerban will attend. If Ryan sends a spokesman, we will send a spokesman," wrote TJ Helmstetter, Zerban's senior communications director. "If Ryan wants to Skype, we will Skype. But we expect the same rules to apply to both viable candidates in this election."
Helmstetter confirmed during a phone call that the campaign does not consider Deschler a viable candidate and Zerban would not participate without Ryan.
We expected to hear from the Ryan campaign last Friday or by yesterday at the very latest. When Monday passed without word, Patch conferred with WGTD and we made the decision to cancel the debate.
After receiving our email, both the Ryan and Zerban campaigns issued statements.
Seifert pointed out that Ryan is following historical precedent:
We respect the decision made by Patch.com to cancel the proposed candidate forum on October 25, 2012. Earlier this month, Congressman Ryan debated Vice President Joe Biden giving voters in Wisconsin’s 1st District an opportunity to hear Congressman Ryan articulate his vision for our country’s future, speak to the principled solutions he’s offered in the House of Representatives, and provide specifics on what can be done to get our economy growing. The historical precedent established by Democratic Vice Presidential nominees like Lloyd Bentsen, Joe Lieberman, and Joe Biden – who were also simultaneously running for reelection to Congress - has been to participate in the Vice Presidential debate only. Congressman Ryan has followed this precedent.
Zerban campaign manager Al Benninghoff called out Ryan for not respecting the voters of the 1st District:
We’re deeply disappointed that Congressman Ryan has turned his back on the people of this district to advance his political ambitions. His radical plans to kill Medicare, privatize social security, and gut student loans are not designed to help the middle class. They are designed to help Paul Ryan's wealthy donors. If he can make time to come to Wisconsin for those big moneyed donors, then he could have made time for the voters of southeast Wisconsin. This news confirms what Wisconsinites have long suspected—Paul Ryan is walking on our backs to make a place for himself in the White House.
Deschler sent Patch an email expressing his disappointment, but not his surprise.
(I'm) sad that it happened, but I am not surprised. Zerban is not concerned about debating me, if he cannot get the big prize, which is obviously Paul Ryan.