Here’s the headline from the latest e-mail blast from the Cotton campaign: “Pryor said he won’t accept KARK’s debate unless Cotton agrees to AETN. So what’s his excuse now?”
You could see this one coming. Last night, the Pryor campaign declined the proposed debate from KARK, which would have featured Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press. The Pryor camp said that their position from the beginning had been that they wanted to first nail down 1) the debate in Fayetteville sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce (both campaigns have agreed to appear) and 2) the AETN debate in Conway (until today, Pryor had accepted but Cotton had not committed) before committing to other debates. They had already passed on other offers for that reason, the campaign said in a letter to KARK, so it wouldn’t be fair to make an exception.
Well, now Cotton has finally accepted the AETN debate. According to his campaign, this is eighth debate invitation that Cotton has accepted. Cotton’s campaign noted the statement from Pryor campaign manager Jeff Weaver in his letter to KARK: “When Rep. Cotton agrees to meet us in Fayetteville and Conway, we’ll consider other proposals.”
Will we get a KARK debate now that Cotton is doing AETN? We’ll see, but I really doubt it. I suspect the Pryor campaign will say that it’s too late now (in their KARK letter, Weaver wrote, “We honestly never expected Cotton’s camp to drag their feet on AETN”).
The Pryor campaign’s stated reasons for declining KARK, or other events outside of the two they prefer, are honestly pretty flimsy. I’m only speculating, but here’s my read on the situation. For whatever reason, the Pryor camp decided it was to their strategic benefit to have two debates: Fayetteville and AETN. For whatever reason, the Cotton camp decided it was to their strategic benefit to have multiple debates. It also seems like Team Cotton was down on the AETN debate, which will feature the Green and Libertarian candidates. But at this point, it looks like the primary reason they were holding out was the fear that once they accepted, the Pryor campaign would say that two debates was enough and call it a day. The two campaigns played a game of chicken and when the Pryor campaign simply passed on KARK, that was that (if I have this right, it seems like Team Cotton should have said, “we’ll do AETN if y’all will do KARK” yesterday).
If you found the last paragraph boring, I’d say that’s good news for the Pryor campaign. Again, if I’m right that the Pryor campaign wanted these particular two debates and no more, then they won, they got what they wanted. Now that Cotton has accepted AETN, he can claim the moral high ground on this, say that he wanted more debates for the public, that Pryor is scared to talk about his record, etc. Here, you can get a sampling from the Cotton e-mail blast: “Since then, Senator Pryor has ducked, dodged, stalled, insisted on excluding foreign policy, and even run from reporters who dared to ask him about debates.” And KARK, bummed to miss out on hosting an event, is happy to offer an assist on this front, putting out stuff like this on social media. Cotton partisans are calling Pryor chicken and happily re-tweeting the admonishments from KARK. By my lights, Cotton comes out of this affair looking a little better than Pryor, but for most voters, this is going to be confusing and tedious noise. Pundits (particularly pundits with a personal stake in whether an event takes place) are very concerned with keeping score on the debate over debates. I would be shocked if many swing voters are paying attention or care.
I’ve been interested to learn that liberals are convinced Chuck Todd is a secret conservative and conservatives are convinced that Chuck Todd is a secret liberal. I don’t detect any bias from the bland establishment figure, other than Todd’s bias toward a brand of facial hair so slimy that it should simply not be televised. I for one am happy that the AETN debate is happening because Steve Barnes is the coolest cat in Arkansas.
*UPDATE: Pryor’s deputy campaign manager Erik Dorey just sent this statement. They’re sticking with the two debates agreed to:
We now have two statewide televised debates on the schedule, and Arkansans will have the chance to hear these candidates discuss their positions on policy both foreign and domestic.
Consider this tiresome “debate over debates” finally put to bed.
We look forward to seeing Congressman Cotton get back to campaigning on issues, and maybe he can start by finally giving a cogent explanation for his votes to end the Violence Against Women Act. That was the subject of a news conference Mark wrapped up barely an hour ago, at which we also kicked off our “Women for Pryor” tour across Arkansas in the coming days.
p.s. still no word from Secretary of State Mark Martin‘s campaign. Martin is the only major candidate who has not yet agreed to do the AETN debate.
After the jump, press release from the Cotton campaign:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 30, 2014
Cotton Agrees To AETN Debate; Calls On Pryor To Accept KARK Debate
Pryor said he won’t accept KARK’s debate unless Cotton agrees to AETN. So what’s his excuse now?
Little Rock, Arkansas —
U.S. Senate candidate Tom Cotton announced Tuesday that he is accepting an invitation to debate Senator Mark Pryor on AETN, marking the eighth debate invitation Cotton has accepted. Cotton agreed to the AETN debate after final details regarding panelists were made available to the campaign early Tuesday morning. Cotton also called on Senator Mark Pryor to accept a second statewide one-on-one debate with him at KARK.
Last night Senator Pryor declined yet another debate proposal from KARK, stating he will only accept their invitation if Cotton agrees to debate on AETN. Pryor campaign manager Jeff Weaver told KARK yesterday, “When Rep. Cotton agrees to meet us in Fayetteville and Conway, we’ll consider other proposals.”
Now that Cotton has agreed to the AETN debate, what is Pryor’s excuse now?
The Cotton campaign’s position on debates has been simple, and was laid out almost six months ago in mid-April: we believe Arkansas voters deserve at least five opportunities to hear Senator Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton debate the issues one-on-one.
Since then, Senator Pryor has ducked, dodged, stalled, insisted on excluding foreign policy, and even run from reporters who dared to ask him about debates.
Will Pryor keep his word about debates now that Cotton has agreed to AETN’s debate?
Cotton Spokesman David Ray said: “Tom Cotton has now agreed to eight different televised debates, including AETN. Will Senator Pryor keep his word , and agree to KARK’s statewide debate proposal? Or will he continue to hide from his record of voting with President Obama 93 percent of the time?”