Published Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 | 11:08 a.m.
Updated Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 | 1:14 p.m.
UPDATE: Here is the statement I received this morning from Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen:
"We obviously gave you the wrong signal and I apologize for that. We have other events planned for October 21 and the campaign has long contended that debates be held before early voting.
"An Angle-Reid debate has been scheduled for October 14th. Earlier this week the Angle campaign also accepted an offer to participate in an Angle-Reid forum that is being hosted on September 23rd, and it is my understanding that the Reid campaign has agreed to do the forum as well."
This is a farce, of course, as you can read below. When I asked if there was any chance left for there to be a debate, he gave me a simple answer: "No debate."
The story of how I succeeded in getting two candidates who don’t want to debate to agree to a debate and then how one of them backed out is quite the tale – and now is garnering national attention, as everything that happens in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race does.
Just so the truth doesn’t get distorted through the prism of the national media, partisans and, of course, Twitter, here’s the timeline:
It all began June 29: Sharron Angle challenged Harry Reid to debate on “Face to Face” during an appearance on the program. Here’s what she said:
“What I would like to see is Harry Reid come into this studio and have a true debate, and on the issues.”
Pretty clear, right?
Since that time, I have been trying to persuade the Reid folks to come on with Angle. Frankly, I don’t think they wanted their man on the program with Angle, preferring to have the event as close to the election as possible and with multiple journalists, a tight format and even minor party candidates. I got their strategy, but I kept pushing.
Reid agreed to a Nevada Broadcasters Association debate and to a Sunbelt debate – that’s the parent company of the stations that air “Face to Face.” After some back and forth, Angle agreed to the NBA debate but then rejected the Sunbelt debate, claiming it was “partisan” because Brian Greenspun, whose family owns the Sun, supports Reid and the Sun was going to be a sponsor.
This made little sense because during this same time, Angle Deputy Campaign Manager Jordan Gehrke told me Angle was good on her commitment do my program and I work for the Greenspuns.
But no matter. I pressed on. On Aug. 23, in an email to me, Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen, a veteran of national campaigns, wrote: "A Sunbelt debate is different from a Face to Face debate.
So let me know if you get Harry to agree to come on Face to Face with Sharron."
So I put even more pressure on the Reid folks, and they finally agreed to do the debate on “Face to Face” on Oct. 21 in Reno, the date I had confirmed with Gehrke. The Reid campaign put out a release at 3:20 PM on Thursday. Having Angle’s public challenge and Gehrke’s confirmation to go ahead with an announcement, I announced the debate through my RalstonFlash newsletter and on Twitter shortly after 3:30 PM.
At 4 PM, I received a phone call from one of Angle’s spokesmen, Jerry Stacy. Stacy surprised me by informing me Angle was not going to agree to the debate because it was after early voting started. (It is five days after early voting and approximately 80 percent of the electorate will not have voted.) When I informed Stacy that Angle was on record as challenging Reid on tape and Gehrke, who I assumed was his superior, had committed, Stacy replied, “I’m the Nevada guy.” That was a confirmation of the ongoing power struggle between Angle’s living-room-campaign friends and her professional operatives. But Stacy insisted she would not appear and that he would find Gehrke.
I immediately contacted Gehrke, who told me he would find out what was going on.
Then it got really bizarre:
At 6:20 PM, Stacy put out a news release headlined: “Angle Campaign Agrees To 2nd Debate On September 23”
Sharron Angle for Senate Spokesman Jerry Stacy released the following statement agreeing to a debate hosted on September 23. This debate is in addition to the previously announced Nevada Broadcasters Association debate on October 14.
"Our position has always been that we need a fully informed electorate who can evaluate both Harry Reid and Sharron Angle in a free flowing debate that took place before early voting so that the entire electorate can see the candidates before they go to the polls. We have agreed to a second debate on September 23, 2010 at Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas hosted by the Christian Business Network, Business Women for Christ, Media Fellowship International, and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. We look forward to this debate and the opportunity for voters to compare and contrast Harry Reid's failed policies versus Sharron's message of cutting taxes, reducing the size of government, and protecting our borders."
This was an obvious attempt to deflect attention from her campaign’s disavowal of the candidate’s public challenge to Reid to debate on the program. But it was more than that: It was false on at least a couple of levels.
First, it is not a debate. Indeed, Reid will be in DC on Sept. 23 and already taped a Q and A at the school. I am sure Stacy knew that when he sent it. So when he called it “free flowing” and said he “looked forward to the debate,” he was being much more than misleading.
Second, this “debate” was sponsored by Christian groups and, the release says, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. But Friday morning, a chamber spokeswoman called to tell me the chamber had nothing to do with it.
Get the picture, folks?
This is all about a campaign organization riven by personality conflicts between seasoned pros and amateurs, and a candidate torn between longtime friends and operatives parachuted in to save her. Stacy is trying to use the campaign's previous insistence on having a debate before early voting starts as a fig leaf, but it is not a very effective one since Oct. 21 is still just under two weeks before the balloting. This is about ego and inside baseball (do they think anyone cares when the debate is or will care about Stacy's demand about the early voting cutoff?) Besides, Angle can’t get away from that public commitment and I have been told it’s not over yet. We shall see.
Lots of national coverage today: