Voters in southern Arizona’s competitive 6th Congressional District may not get to see the candidates for the open U.S. House seat go head to head on issues because they are not participating in a televised debate.
Democrat Kirsten Engel and Republican Juan Ciscomani were expected to face off next week in a televised debate hosted by Arizona Public Media in Tucson, but the format was changed to two separate interviews that will air Oct. 14.
Engel’s campaign accused Ciscomani of dodging the debate and of having a pattern of avoiding large televised debates with opponents, whereas it said Engel has and wants to debate live. Engel’s campaign said Ciscomani didn’t confirm in time with Arizona Public Media, so the debate couldn’t go forward on such short notice.
Ciscomani’s campaign rejected the claim that he doesn’t want to debate, and said he was looking forward to the TV debate, but that the host decided to change the format to separate interviews.
The two have yet to appear together in front of voters or participate together in a televised debate.
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“As a longtime Arizonan and Tucson resident, I know that Arizona Public Media’s debates are a fixture of each election year in this district,” Engel said in a written statement. “By dodging this debate, Juan Ciscomani is depriving voters of the opportunity to hear where he stands on crucial issues. My question for Ciscomani is simple — what are you afraid of?”
Arizona Public Media said the change was because of logistics and did not respond to questions asking for clarity on what prompted the change.
“Logistics prevented us from doing the debate,” Christopher Conover, Arizona Public Media news director, said. “We will have both candidates in for extended interviews which will air on our TV side on the night of October 14.”
Engel, a former state senator, and Ciscomani, a longtime aide to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, are competing for Arizona’s only open congressional seat. Incumbent Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., is retiring. Post-census redistricting shifted the old 2nd Congressional District into the new 6th Congressional District, which includes the state’s southeastern border and stretches north almost as far as Alpine and as far west as eastern Tucson.
The race is considered competitive. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report as of Friday described it as leaning Republican, meaning the seat could flip.
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Debating the debates
Engel’s campaign said Ciscomani has a pattern of refusing to do TV debates. He did not participate in two Arizona PBS debates this cycle — one with his Republican opponents in the primary (while Engel did the Democratic debate) and another with Engel last month for the general election. The four primary candidates debated without him, and Engel later had a solo interview for the general.
The host of those debates said at the start of the primary debate that Ciscomani declined the invitation, and at the start of the general debate that he did not respond.
“Is Ciscomani hiding from the voters to avoid answering for his radical and unpopular views?” Engel said in a statement.
The Engel campaign also is highlighting a video that spread widely on social media of Ciscomani appearing to walk away after being asked about his views on abortion.
Becky Freeman, Ciscomani’s campaign manager, said he is not dodging debates. Ciscomani wanted to do the Arizona Public Media debate against Engel, Freeman said, and had told that to the host. It’s “unfortunate" it was canceled because he wants in-district debates, she said.
“The only pattern regarding debates is Juan confirming and attending, and Engel ditching debates throughout the district after she confirms ...,” Freeman said in a written statement. “She has no interest in the district, no interest in showing up for the constituents, and no interest in rural Arizona.”
Ciscomani last week called out Engel for missing a local candidate forum in Pinal County. Her campaign said she never confirmed her appearance in that one.
“Whether televised or in-person, Juan will show-up, has shown up and looks forward to continue meeting voters across the district with his message,” Freeman said.
Debate attendance has been a point of contention in Arizona and elsewhere this election cycle.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs has declined to debate her Republican rival Kari Lake, who has made an issue of Hobbs' refusal in the Arizona governor's race.
Ciscomani plans to attend an Oct. 12 debate hosted by the Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Vista Herald, Freeman said.
Engel’s campaign hasn’t yet confirmed for that, but said it’s misleading to compare the major debates held by journalists and televised for the whole district to smaller local community forums.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: No TV debate for Kirsten Engel, Juan Ciscomani in 6th Congressional District