2020 Election

Establishment-Backed Dem Bails on Primary Debate

Dem rival calls Gideon 'anti-democratic' for skipping forums

The establishment-backed Democrat seeking to oust Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) is once again skipping a Monday evening debate with her Democratic primary opponents, prompting condemnations from her rivals.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D.) has repeatedly refused to appear on the same stage as her primary rivals, human rights activist Betsy Sweet and criminal defense attorney Bre Kidman. She most recently declined to attend the candidate debate scheduled for Monday night, the first televised debate of the race.

Gideon's long string of absences from candidate forums and debates has prompted accusations from rivals that Gideon is ignoring Maine voters after winning the approval of Washington, D.C., party officials.

"[Gideon is] refusing to appear in forums where she would have to answer unscripted questions without being able to simply end the event when she got one she didn’t like," Kidman told the Washington Free Beacon.

Gideon has skipped at least two candidate forums attended by her rivals. She has also refused to attend at least three other debate forums as well, forcing the organizers to cancel the event in its entirety, according to Kidman.

Gideon received the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsement within days of her campaign launch and has used her ties to the establishment to emerge as the clear frontrunner of the Democratic primary, raising nearly $15 million. Her refusal to appear in public forums alongside her rivals is consistent with the larger Democratic establishment strategy of keeping favored candidates away from the media limelight. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), for example, once advised a North Carolina candidate to lock himself up in a "windowless basement" rather than host town halls.

"We want you to spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money and then we’re going to spend 80 percent of it on negative ads about [GOP Sen. Thom] Tillis," Schumer said.

Gideon, who did not respond to a request for comment, has yet to publicly explain her planned absence from the Monday debate stage. The candidate at first was scheduled to appear on a video conference hosted by NARAL, a national pro-abortion group backing her campaign. That event, however, has since been canceled.

Kidman told the Free Beacon that two Maine-based political groups tried to organize candidate forums but abandoned their plans after Gideon and Ross LaJeunesse, a former candidate who dropped out in March, refused to attend the event. She said another organization also tried to host a forum but canceled due to "difficulty scheduling candidates," even though both Kidman and Sweet agreed to participate. Kidman called her fellow Democrat "anti-democratic" for dodging voters.

"I would describe Collins and Gideon both as transparently anti-democratic for undermining voters’ ability to make informed choices by spending outrageous sums on misleading advertisements to foster name recognition without participating in forums to answer for any of their claims," Kidman said.

Gideon has translated her support from national Democrats and left-leaning interest groups into a massive war chest, spending more money than both Collins and her Democratic primary rivals combined. The massive expenditure has helped Gideon secure a nine-point lead over Collins, according to a May poll.

The Sweet campaign did not return a request for comment.