Virginians will not have the chance to watch former governor Mark Warner and his opponent for the open seat in the Senate, former governor Jim Gilmore, participate in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters because of Warner's recent decision.
The League of Women Voters of Virginia offered to host a free, televised debate between the two candidates, as it had in past election years. Warner, to the surprise of many parties, rejected this debate invitation, which had been extended to him mid-June.
Gilmore, the Republican candidate, agreed to participate in the debate. His campaign offered several possible dates for Warner to attend. However, Warner declined to participate in this event, upsetting the League and, potentially, many Virginian voters.
"Governor Warner has participated in one debate, and a second debate is scheduled next month before the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce," said Warner's Communication Director Kevin Hall in a statement, downplaying concerns that Warner does not want to openly debate Gilmore for fear of losing.
Still, Warner has been heavily criticized for his decision, since the only debates he plans to participate in are closed to the public or charge an admissions fee.
"If Warner has nothing to hide, why would he refuse to debate publicly?" said Dick Leggitt, campaign manger for Jim Gilmore. "(Warner) is concerned that he has to take a position that will offend a group he is currently courting. He is someone that tries to be all things to all people and in these trying times, we think that's not the answer."
Warner was ahead by 23 percent in the last public opinion poll, according to Rasmussen Reports.
Warner has been making an effort to reach out to Virginians since January and, according to Hall, "visiting 85 of Virginia's 134 localities" in hopes of garnering support for the election in November.
Mary Biggs, a member of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and a long-time Warner supporter, said that she does not believe this decision will affect his campaign "because he will be accessible at other events and debates."
Craig Brians, a professor of political science at Virginia Tech explained that most frontrunners do not participate in debates, as it can only hurt them if they make a mistake that causes the public to question the candidate.
On the other hand, since Gilmore is behind in public opinion polls, a televised debate could potentially help him and boost his popularity, which could explain why his campaign readily agreed to debate Warner.
Warner and Gilmore are hoping to replace retiring Republican John Warner, a five-term Senator (not related to Mark Warner).