Abbott backs out of debate with Davis in Dallas, agrees to another

PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

UPDATE: Abbott has agreed to a second debate sponsored by KERA and KXAS on the same day.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Greg Abbott on Friday backed out of a statewide televised debate with Democrat Wendy Davis, leaving voters with just one chance to watch the gubernatorial hopefuls go head-to-head before the November election.

Abbott balked at the roundtable format of the Sept. 30 debate at Dallas television station WFAA, which would have been the second of only two scheduled debates before Election Day. The other is Sept. 19 in McAllen and will be carried live in several Texas markets, although there are no current deals in place with Dallas or Houston stations.

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A roundtable format typically enables more candid debates and dialogue between the candidates, rather than answering questions individually directed at them by a set of panelists.

“We wanted an environment that was conducive to a thoughtful policy discussion. WFAA wanted a televised foodfight,” Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said.

Michael Devlin, president and general manager of WFAA, said in an email that the station has a record of producing numerous statewide debates that serve the needs of voters.

“The professional political operatives can busy themselves with spinning and parsing the record and reality,” Devlin said.

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WFAA broke the news of Abbott backing out with a story that quoted campaign adviser Robert Black, a former longtime aide to Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Black is the latest member of Abbott’s team who was also part of Perry’s presidential run in 2011 that was undone by Perry’s famous “oops” debate blunder.

Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas called the cancellation an insult to Texas voters. Davis had originally called for six debates between her and Texas’ longtime attorney general, which Abbott’s campaign rejected as a gimmick.

If the Sept. 19 debate holds, it will be the first general-election debate in a governor’s race in nearly a decade. In 2010, Rick Perry stuck to a vow in his final re-election campaign to not debate Billl White unless the Democrat released old tax returns.

The Rio Grande Valley debate will be hosted by The Monitor in McAllen, television station KGBT and Telemundo. It will be livestreamed online and other television markets — including Dallas or Houston — could be added later.

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Hirsch said the Abbott campaign was trying to schedule another debate.