Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris abruptly switched gears Wednesday, pulling out of an October debate with Democratic challenger Heather Mizeur over his insistence that the Libertarian Party candidate be included.
The campaign of Harris, a conservative seeking a seventh term in the 1st Congressional District, had released a statement earlier in the day to The Baltimore Sun, saying he “won’t pull out if a third-party candidate can’t attend, but he will nonetheless insist on them being invited to debates.”
But Harris withdrew from the debate in an afternoon text from campaign official Walter Smoloski to Doug Donley, executive director of Cecil Public Media, also known as Cecil TV, host of the event.
“Based on the decision to disinvite the Libertarian candidate for the debate, Congressman Harris will be pulling out,” the text said, according to Donley. “If you guys change your mind, please let us know. Thank you.”
Harris and Mizeur had agreed to participate, Donley said Monday. However, Harris had followed up with a request to include Libertarian Daniel Thibeault. Donley said he initially reached out to Thibeault to include him, but ultimately decided against it because he isn’t raising money or actively campaigning.
By the end of the day Wednesday, Harris issued a news release saying: “I have always insisted all candidates for the First Congressional District be invited to any debates, and I stand by that policy. That’s the way democracy works.”
The debate was scheduled for Oct. 26 at Cecil College and was to be streamed on the Cecil TV website.
Mizeur accused Harris of trying to duck the debate.
“If I had Andy Harris’ record, I wouldn’t want to face the voters either,” she said in a written statement. “We already knew Harris was a traitor who plotted to overturn a free and fair election. Now it’s clear he’s also a coward.”
No other debates have been scheduled in the contest pitting Harris, 65, who is loyal to Republican former President Donald Trump against Mizeur, 49, a former state delegate and 2014 gubernatorial candidate who has been endorsed by national progressive groups.
The district covers the Eastern Shore, Harford County and a piece of Baltimore County.
Harris said in Wednesday’s statement that he is “excited to share the stage with the other invited candidates” at an unspecified League of Women Voters forum. His campaign headlined the release: “Harris Agrees to Debate in First District Race.” It said details “will be released to the media when available.”
Mike Cross-Barnet, Mizeur’s spokesman, said there is no date or location established for that forum.
Thibeault, 30, is a former truck driver who lives in Elkton and is working as a security guard while studying engineering at Cecil College.
Donley said he originally sought to accommodate Harris’ request by informally inviting Thibeault on Tuesday to join the debate. The invitation was withdrawn the same day, Donley said, because it was decided upon further review that Thibeault wasn’t eligible.
“He has no social media, spending or financial support,” Donley said.
Thibeault said in an interview that he had hoped to participate. He acknowledged that his job and studies leaves him little time to campaign. He is not required to file finance reports with the Federal Election Commission because he hasn’t raised or spent at least $5,000.
In 2018, Libertarian Party candidate Jenica Martin appeared with Harris and Democratic candidate Jesse Colvin in a Cecil TV debate.
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“I believe she ran more of a campaign,” Donley said of Martin. “He [Thibeault] is running what I would call a passive campaign.”
Harris was reelected handily in 2018 and 2020. Cecil TV didn’t stage a debate in 2020 because of health concerns related to the coronavirus.
Mizeur (pronounced miz-EER) says she got into the 2022 race because of the actions of Harris. She was living with her wife, Deborah, on their Kent County herb and chicken farm, when she heard Harris was among 147 lawmakers who opposed formal certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win as Congress met on Jan. 6, 2021.
She has called Harris’ positions “extreme” and “out of touch.”
While Republicans have a voter registration advantage in the district, Mizeur is hoping for a sizable turnout of abortion rights supporters motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling effectively overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that had protected a right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution.
Harris’ campaign website and Twitter page barely mention Mizeur, focusing much more on inflation and his opposition to Biden’s policies.
Harris said in a July statement that he is emphasizing “bringing down the price of gas and groceries and securing our communities against violent crime.”