GOP Senators Band Together to Call for Debates

Gardner, Tillis, and McSally press for national CNN debates

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September 1, 2020

A trio of Republican senators are calling on their Democratic opponents to accept a round of national debate invitations from CNN.

Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), and Martha McSally (Ariz.) released statements Tuesday noting that their opponents have rejected a slew of debate invitations, including one from CNN for a "nationally televised debate in each race." McSally accused Arizona Democratic Senate nominee Mark Kelly of "hiding from his record and radical positions."

"It is a slap in the face to Arizonans that, even with a CNN home-field advantage, Mark Kelly is refusing to meet me on the debate stage," McSally said.

Tillis made a similar appeal, calling Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham "too afraid to face me in a debate hosted by his liberal allies at CNN." Cunningham previously accepted Tillis's January proposal of five debates but has since agreed to just three.

The three races are considered key to determining the Senate majority in 2020—Gardner argued that with "so much on the line," voters "deserve to hear from both candidates." The Republican in June called for five debates against former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

Senate Republicans have criticized their partisan counterparts for avoiding public events, saying the hesitance to debate is part of a strategy to avoid scrutiny. One Democrat who flirted with challenging Tillis, state senator Jeff Jackson, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) asked him to "spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money" should he enter the race.

Kelly, Cunningham, and Hickenlooper—none of whom returned requests for comment—are not the only prominent Democratic Senate challengers to dodge public forums in recent months. Iowa nominee Theresa Greenfield skipped the first debate of the general election against Sen. Joni Ernst (R.) on August 26, and Maine nominee Sara Gideon has missed at least five candidate forums since March.