Despite offers to debate from the Republican candidates running for governor and U.S. senator, their Democratic opponents have yet to accept the challenge.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, offered to debate Attorney General Josh Shapiro twice in October, with the venues and dates to be determined by the candidates. Mastriano’s one mandate is that he wants the campaigns to run the debates, not the media.
“As expected, Josh Shapiro doesn’t have the guts to debate Sen. Mastriano without cover from his protectors in the mainstream media,” said a Mastriano campaign spokesperson. “Given the opportunity to meet Sen. Mastriano face to face in a neutral venue with each campaign receiving the exact same terms, Josh made clear that he only wants to debate Sen. Mastriano if the moderators, venue, and on-site media are carefully tailored to give him an artificial advantage.”
Shapiro’s campaign spokesman Will Simons dismissed Mastriano’s proposal. “Doug Mastriano’s unserious proposal is an obvious stunt to avoid any real questions about his extreme agenda and record of conduct by dictating his own rules for debates. Mastriano has spent his entire campaign refusing to answer questions from local outlets across Pennsylvania–refusing to leave his echo chamber of extremists on alt-right media.
“In Pennsylvania, there is a long history of media outlets and independent moderators asking candidates of both parties fair, direct questions about their track records and plans if elected–nobody gets to pick their own moderators or set their own terms.
“It’s unfortunate that Doug Mastriano has recklessly decided to blow up good faith debate negotiations with media outlets across the commonwealth. If he’s ever ready to step up and finally answer questions about his reckless agenda, we look forward to comparing Josh Shapiro’s long record of bringing people together and delivering results for Pennsylvanians with Mastriano’s record of dangerous extremism,” Simons said.
Similarly, Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz is decrying Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s failure to agree to debates. Oz has offered to debate Fetterman five times.
“Doctor Oz has agreed to five debates. John Fetterman has agreed to zero debates. If John is too sick to debate and is concerned he cannot stand in front of cameras for more than 10 minutes, then he should just say so. We’re sure voters would understand and so would we. Otherwise, he should pick some of the many debates Doctor Oz has agreed to or explain why he won’t agree to debate on KDKA on September 6,” said Oz campaign communications director Brittany Yanick.
Fetterman’s campaign did not respond when asked to comment about whether he plans to debate Oz.
Both Democrats are leading in recent polls and also have larger campaign coffers. A recent Trafalgar Group poll has Fetterman at 48.4 and Oz at 43.5 percent. It also puts Shapiro at 48.6 with Mastriano trailing at 44.7.
The Emerson College Poll showed Fetterman leading Oz by four points and Shapiro over Mastriano by three. But the Franklin & Marshall poll showed the Democrats winning by wide margins, with Shapiro at 44 percent to Mastriano’s 33 percent and Fetterman at 43 percent to Oz’s 30 percent.
But debates could be game changers.
Christopher P. Borick, professor of political science and director, Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said it is not unusual for a frontrunner to spurn debates.
“As for debates, it is a long-established strategy for frontrunners to try and minimize or even forego debates,” said Borick. “The status quo benefits those who are in front, so why give your opponent opportunities to score hits. Of course, those trailing will ask for more debates and use the reluctance of the frontrunner to engage to score a few points. In 2022 this dance is playing out with the GOP candidates looking for opportunities to gain ground and the Democrats not eager to provide those chances.”
The two Republican contenders may also get a boost from a rally with former President Donald Trump planned for Sept. 3 in Wilkes-Barre. Trump endorsed both candidates.