GOP wants Skelton to debate Hartzler

Candidates slated to appear at joint forum next week

With just four weeks before Election Day, Missouri’s Republican Party complained Monday afternoon about U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton’s “refusal to meet Vicky Hartzler for candidate forums or debates.”

“It’s shocking to me that he has not agreed to any debates, so far,” Lloyd Smith, the state party’s executive director, said in a 12-minute conference call. “He has refused all offers, even from the media.”

Smith noted other Missouri candidates — incumbents as well as challengers — are involved in debates this month.

But Jason Rauch, Skelton’s campaign manager, found the GOP’s news conference topic “a bit odd, given that Ike and Rep. Hartzler will appear together next Tuesday.”

That appearance comes in a joint forum “in St. Robert hosted by the local senior citizens center,” Rauch said.

He also pointed to the Missouri Farm Bureau’s Political Action Committee forum held at the State Fair in August.

Hartzler received the PAC’s endorsement — the first time since 1982 the Farm Bureau’s 4th District trustees didn’t choose Skelton.

But Hartzler’s campaign in the past has discounted that event as a “debate” because, although the candidates spoke to the same group, they spoke one after the other and not at the same time.

Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, captured the GOP nomination in August in a nine-candidate field.

She is a former teacher who served three terms in the Missouri House from 1995-2001. Hartzler and her husband own an implement dealership with stores in three western Missouri towns.

Skelton, a former Lafayette County prosecutor and twoterm state senator, first was elected to Congress in 1976 and has won re-election 16 times.

He currently chairs the powerful House Armed Services Committee.

Skelton’s closest race came in 1982, when redistricting based on the 1980 U.S. Census forced Missouri to lose a congressional district, and first-term Republican Wendell Bailey’s hometown, Willow Springs, was moved from the 8th District into Democrat Skelton’s 4th District.

Skelton won that race by nearly 17,000 votes — just over a 9.56 percent victory margin.

Smith said the GOP’s research into Skelton’s elections history in “has turned up zero examples of Congressman Skelton debating one of his opponents.”

He said a face-to-face debate would help voters understand “the contrast (between candidates) on an issue grid. ... It’s the very same thing you would do on the House floor in a colloquy, when you’re answering questions and debating issues.”

And, Smith said, Missourians “expect their congressmen and congresswomen to face the voters, to face their opponent, to answer the tough questions.”

But Rauch said, Skelton is doing that.

Although not committed to more joint appearances, Rauch said, “Ike is traveling around the district and talking to folks about what is most important to them.”

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