By BOB CHRISTIE
PHOENIX (AP) — Democrat Katie Hobbs’ campaign announced Sunday that she would not debate Republican Kari Lake as the two battle for the Arizona governor’s office, calling off any negotiations with Lake and the state commission overseeing debates.
The decision came after more than a week of efforts by Hobbs, currently secretary of state, to change the debate into separate half-hour interviews with the moderator. The Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which has held debates for two decades featuring candidates for statewide and legislative offices, flatly rejected that proposal on Thursday.
Instead, the commission urged its staff to work with Hobbs to come up with minor changes to the debate and gave her a week to come to an agreement. Hobbs’ campaign manager’s statements to the commissioners made it seem unlikely that a deal could be reached.
Nicole DeMont instead repeated the campaign’s concerns that debating Lake would “just create another spectacle, like we saw in the GOP primary debate. But on top of that, I would just add, you can’t debate a conspiracy theorist and at the last debate, she brought the conversation back to the 2020 election no less than a dozen times.”
The GOP primary debate featured four candidates who almost immediately devolved into a free-for-all of talking over and constantly interrupting each other.
The statement released by the Hobbs campaign on Sunday mainly repeated those points and said she “remains willing and eager to participate in a town hall style event,” like one put on by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week where she and Lake were questioned separately.
Lake had already agreed to the debate and its format and called out Hobbs for refusing to engage, calling her “a coward.” She also said she was ready to hit the stage with Hobbs at any time, let her pick the moderator and write all the questions.
Hobbs also skipped the Clean Elections debate with her Democratic primary challenger, Marco Lopez. He was instead interviewed alone.
Lake’s campaign spokesman, Ross Trumble, said that the campaign expects the same arrangement, although that was not certain Sunday evening.
“Kari will keep her promise to the voters and debate,” Trumble said in a statement. “The empty chair across from her will show Arizonans just how little Katie Hobbs cares about them.”
Candidates across the nation have been skipping traditional televised debates this year, with some Republicans declining to participate as they avoid mainstream media events they view as biased and Democrats like Hobbs pointing to raucous GOP primary debates as a reason to avoid them.
The debates put on by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission have been a must-attend campaign appearance for years. The scheduled Oct. 12 governor’s debate was to be moderated by Ted Simons, a veteran interviewer who has overseen countless Clean Elections debates since joining Arizona PBS as host of the public affairs show “Arizona Horizon” in 2007. In addition to Arizona PBS, TV and radio stations across the state had planned to broadcast and stream the governor debate on their websites.
All other statewide candidates have agreed to participate in the televised Clean Elections debate series, including Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who will debate Republican Blake Masters on Oct. 6.