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Debate over debates begins in Virginia's 5th congressional district

Ben Pershing

If there's one standard feature of most political campaigns, it's the debate over debates. One candidate nearly always accuses the other(s) of ducking, waffling or trying to exclude participants from the head-to-head sessions. The fracas has begun relatively early in Virginia's 5th congressional district, where state Sen. Robert Hurt won the GOP nod to face Rep. Tom Perriello (D) just 10 days ago.

The confusion started June 12, when The Daily Progress in Charlottesville published a story reporting that Hurt "absolutely" would be willing to appear at debates with both Perriello and Jeffrey Clark, an independent candidate who says he's running because Hurt isn't conservative enough.

Hurt's statement seemed significant. Democrats are hoping that Clark can peel off enough votes from the right to help Perriello -- who won by just 727 votes in 2008 -- slide past Hurt in November. Given that Clark has almost no money or name identification, debates could give him a valuable public platform.

On Wednesday, Perriello put out a statement saying, "I strongly agree with Sen. Hurt that Mr. Clark should be included in public debates and I look forward to a spirited discussion with both of them."

But it turns out the issue isn't so settled. On Thursday, Hurt issued a statement of his own titled, "Perriello Gets It Wrong." Hurt said: "On Sunday, the Daily Progress incorrectly reported that our campaign agreed to debate Jeff Clark -- and now Tom Perriello has jumped on the opportunity to dodge a head-on debate with me. Unfortunately for Tom Perriello, our campaign has never agreed to participate in any debate including Jeff Clark -- and comments attributed to me are wrong."

Why the confusion? Hurt's statement suggests that his comments to the Daily Progress were clear -- he was only "absolutely" willing to talk to the Perriello camp about debates -- and that it was baffling that the paper misunderstood. After the jump, read the transcript of their exchange (provided by the Hurt campaign) and decide for yourself. One thing is clear -- these campaigns aren't going to agree on much between now and November.

Daily Progress: Would you like to ahhh say that you would....well are you going to be willing to debate Jeff Clark and Tom Perriello?

Robert Hurt: We need to work out all of the details, but debates are a very very important part of any election and obviously we want to make ourselves available to all of the citizens who will be judging us and we're committed to doing that but obviously we have the details to work out.

Daily Progress: Uh huh.

Robert Hurt: We haven't - I don't think - talked with the Perriello campaign about what they're interested in yet but I look forward to talking with them...

Daily Progress: But would you be willing to?

Robert Hurt: Absolutely.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 18, 2010; 9:58 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Virginia Congressional Races , Ben Pershing , Election 2010 , Robert Hurt , Tom Perriello  
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Chalk this one up to poor communication between Hurt and the Progress. I think more of the blame is with Hurt though, since if this transcript is accurate, the original question included Clark, and Hurt didn't explicitely exclude him in his answer. A reasonable person would conclude that, not having been excluded at any point along the way, Clark was included at the end when Hurt said "Absolutely".

Posted by: erikpdumont | June 18, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

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