After more than a month of negotiations, the campaigns of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous agreed to participate in a single, hourlong televised debate on Sept. 24, the two camps announced jointly Thursday.
The campaigns said the debate would be moderated and broadcast statewide by Maryland Public Television at 7 p.m. It will also be broadcast by WBAL in Baltimore and WJLA in Washington. The panel of questioners will be drawn from various media outlets, including The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post.
Hogan, seeking to become the first Republican re-elected as governor in six decades, and Jealous, a former NAACP president, are facing off in the Nov. 6 general election.
This year’s debate schedule is more abbreviated than in either of Maryland’s past two gubernatorial elections.
In 2014, Hogan and Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown met in three televised debates. Four years previously, in the last Maryland election with an incumbent running for re-election, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. debated twice on television and once on radio.
In July, Hogan’s campaign announced that it had accepted invitations to a debate on Sept. 17 hosted by Maryland Public Television, WBAL-TV, The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore, and another on Sept. 24 hosted by WJLA-TV in Washington and The Washington Post.
But the Jealous camp said it had not agreed to that debate schedule.
Since then, the two sides have been negotiating about debates.
“We proposed five debates in October when voters are really paying attention to the race,” said Steven Hershkowitz, a Jealous campaign spokesman. “It’s the same number of debates that the Hogan campaign proposed when they were running in 2014.”
Election Day is Nov. 6. Early voting starts Oct. 25.
Hershkowitz said the two campaigns could not reach an agreement on more than one meeting.
“We wanted to move forward. It’s been more than a month that we’ve been talking about this,” he said. “We were able to get to an agreement on one debate.”
Hogan campaign officials said they pushed for two debates all along.
"The governor very publicly accepted two debate invitations,” said Jim Barnett, campaign manager for Hogan. “If the Jealous campaign wanted more than one debate, they could have taken yes for an answer. But they self-evidently did not want more than one debate. Instead, they requested to meet and at the time of that meeting, to our amazement and disbelief, they offered up the idea of just one debate and there was never any request for more than one debate. We accepted their offer.”
The Hogan campaign said that Jealous’ campaign staff are being misleading about the negotiations and released emails between Barnett and Jealous’ campaign manager, Travis Tazelaar. The exchange shows that on Aug. 30 Barnett agreed to one debate even though the Hogan campaign repeatedly said it wanted two.
“We talked it over. We’re willing to take you up on the one debate, whichever one of the two we have already agreed to,” Barnett wrote to Tazelaar on Aug. 30.
Tazelaar wrote back: “When you say sticking to those dates, does that mean the 17th and the 24th are on the table regardless of which one gets chosen? I have MPT invite for the 17th and Channel 7 invite for the24th. So are you open to MPT on the 24th rather than the 17th?”
Barnett agreed that same day.
“Yes, we’d be willing to do MPT on the 24th rather than the 17th if you guys can work it out with them,” Barnett wrote. “Our view would be that the other set of sponsors should be invited to participate in it given that we already agreed to their event, and now would be backing out as part of this deal.”
Negotiations did not begin until Aug. 15, a month after Hogan announced the two debates in mid-July. In an Aug. 15 email to Barnett, Tazelaar asked if he was willing to “sit down and talk debates?”
Barnett replied Aug. 16: “Good to hear from you. I’m happy to grab a coffee or beer as I’d enjoy getting the chance to meet you and commiserate, but as far as debates go, we’ve accepted all the invitations that we are prepared to accept.”
A Jealous campaign official said that exchange shows that Hogan’s campaign was unwilling to even consider any October debates.
“As is clear from our prior statements we wanted more debates,” said Kevin Harris, a senior adviser to Jealous campaign. “However, it became clear after several weeks of no progress we ran a real risk of voters not having any opportunities to hear from the candidates. We don’t think that’s fair, so we worked to find agreement where we could and one debate was what Hogan was willing to agree to.”
Hershkowitz said Jealous could not attend the Sept. 17 date due to a conflict.
He added in an email that the emails show that the Hogan campaign was “unwilling to budge from those two days and refused to discuss any dates in October. We would have been happy to move the second debate, and add others, to October.”
But the emails and public statements show that Hogan’s campaign was willing to debate twice all along. The email exchange also shows no mention of October dates by either side.