Four days after Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott backed out of a planned debate with Democrat Wendy Davis in Dallas, it was unclear Tuesday whether there would be a gubernatorial debate in the city at all.
Davis agreed to Abbott's format preferences for a debate on Sept. 30 to be hosted by WFAA-TV in Dallas, the Davis campaign said Tuesday. But Abbott has committed to debating at a different venue in the city, Davis hasn't accepted the invitation to the second one and WFAA says it's no longer pursuing a debate. (The Texas Tribune had been a partner with WFAA on its original debate.)
Davis and Abbott had both agreed to the WFAA debate — as well as another debate in McAllen — but Abbott backed out of the WFAA event on Friday because of what one of his advisers said was "an inability to agree on specific details of the format." The debate was to be a roundtable conversation with no specific time limits for candidate remarks.
Davis campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas issued a statement Tuesday after the campaign met with WFAA.
"We have spoken with WFAA this afternoon and expressed our willingness to alter the previously agreed upon debate format to accommodate the Abbott campaign's concerns about the lack of timed responses," Petkanas said. "Wendy looks forward to meeting Mr. Abbott in this more structured debate setting at WFAA on September 30th."
But the Abbott campaign said it has agreed to another debate on that day.
"Greg Abbott is and has been ready, willing and eager to participate in two statewide debates," Abbott campaign manager Wayne Hamilton said. "Only after losing the debate to other outlets did WFAA ask for and receive permission from the Davis campaign to restructure the debate – something they could have done three months ago or even three days ago."
WFAA President and General Manager Mike Devlin said the station will no longer pursue the debate because of Abbott's unwillingness to cooperate.
“We expect people running for the governorship to behave in an honorable fashion,” Devlin said. “At a certain point when you are dealing with somebody who doesn’t keep commitments, why would we keep going back?”
After backing out of the WFAA debate Friday, Abbott agreed to another Dallas debate on Sept. 30 hosted by KERA, NBC5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39 and The Dallas Morning News. However, Davis did not agree to that debate because she had already committed to the WFAA event, the Davis campaign said Tuesday. But in a statement issued later Tuesday, Petkanas said the campaign "will open discussions with KERA tomorrow regarding the possibility of a debate."
Abbott and Davis are scheduled to debate on Sept. 19 in McAllen.
"Greg Abbott looks forward to participating in two statewide debates on September 19th in the Rio Grande Valley, and with KERA, NBC 5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39 and The Dallas Morning News on September 30th in Dallas," said Abbott campaign manager Hamilton. "We hope Sen. Wendy Davis will join Greg Abbott at the new venue in Dallas for a thoughtful discussion about the issues."