Maria Cantwell (left) and Susan Hutchison

Maria Cantwell (left) and Susan Hutchison

Cantwell and Hutchison tussle over details of debate

The Senate candidates say they’re ready to face off in Tacoma and Spokane but timing is in flux.

OLYMPIA — Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and her Republican challenger Susan Hutchison are on course to hold debates in Tacoma and Spokane next month.

But plenty of wrinkles still needed ironing out Wednesday.

Cantwell’s top campaign advisor said the senator would take part in a one-hour debate with Hutchison on Oct. 8 at Pacific Lutheran University. The event, to be hosted by the Washington State Debate Coalition, would begin at 12:30 p.m., said Michael Meehan, a veteran political strategist.

But Hutchison campaign officials scoffed at the senator’s announcement initially, noting there had been no negotiation or communication with them. Hutchison, the former state Republican Party chairwoman, had previously agreed to participate in coalition-sponsored debates Oct. 6 at PLU and Oct. 30 at Gonzaga University.

“This is contrived. Cantwell and the Cantwell campaign are making this up,” said campaign spokesman Steve Beren in an email sent early Wednesday. “Who the heck debates in the middle of the day?”

Several hours later Hutchison said she would attend if Cantwell agreed to two conditions: The debate must be taped and rebroadcast between 6 and 8 p.m. on a weekday night and the senator had to agree to the Spokane debate offered by the coalition.

Cantwell doesn’t object to television stations airing the debate in the evening and as often as they want, Meehan said. As far as a Spokane debate, he said the senator wants it to occur by the week of Oct. 22 when ballots are in voters’ hands.

“Some people won’t take yes for an answer,” Meehan said after learning of the conditions. “We are going to debate in Spokane in October. I promise you.”

A leader of the Washington State Debate Coalition said in an email Wednesday that they were waiting on Hutchison to confirm.

“We are standing by,” wrote Diane Douglas, executive director of the Seattle City Club. The group spearheaded formation of the coalition, which includes prominent civic leaders, universities, nonpartisan groups and media organizations, including The Daily Herald. It sponsored U.S. Senate and gubernatorial debates in 2016 which aired on affiliates of the major networks.

Coalition leaders had a different tone Tuesday. Before Cantwell said she had agreed to a date in Tacoma, Douglas and other leaders were public about their frustration with the senator for not signing on to debate on those original dates.

They sent the senator a letter urging her to reconsider. The letter, which was then posted online, recounted the group’s efforts to accommodate Cantwell and vowed to proceed and “have a podium waiting” should Cantwell change her mind.

Bryan Watt, a Cantwell campaign spokesman, said Tuesday the original dates were not working out. The campaign had been talking with the League of Women Voters about holding debates on other days at Edmonds Community College and in Spokane.

“Sen. Cantwell from the beginning has said she would do two debates,” he said. “At the end of the day we are going to debate Susan Hutchison.”

The election is Nov. 6.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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