Saslaw: McAuliffe should accept debate rules

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified state Sen. Richard Saslaw as campaign chairman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. He is one of several co-chairs. This version has been corrected.

For weeks now, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli has been needling Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe on the subject of debates. On Wednesday, someone unexpected pressed the Democrat on that front: McAuliffe campaign co-chairman Richard L. Saslaw.

Saslaw, a Democratic state senator from Fairfax and one of several McAuliffe campaign co-chairs, said in a radio interview that McAuliffe should stop objecting to the format of the Virginia Bar Association’s July 20 debate. McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, has not agreed to the bar’s plans to allow the candidates to ask each other questions directly.

“Now how do you legitimately say you want to be the governor of Virginia and then you can’t stand up in a debate and answer questions by your opponent?” John Fredericks, host of the John Fredericks Show, asked Saslaw rhetorically.

Saslaw replied: “Well I think Terry, and I’m going to talk to him, I think he should reconsider that. First off, Terry does very well in a debate and I think that he would do quite well if he met him head-on. I think it’s a big mistake not to do that, and I would agree with you. ... The advice I would give to him is, ‘Go ahead and have a free and open debate.’ ”

A day earlier, Cuccinelli’s campaign announced that it had formally agreed to participate in the Bar Association debate in Hot Springs. Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, also agreed to the group’s proposed format, which would allow for candidate-to-candidate questions. It would also trim the candidates’ rebuttal time from 60 seconds to 30 seconds.

“We agreed to this debate two months ago,” McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said. “The two campaigns are still negotiating format.”

McAuliffe has agreed to participate in five debates. Cuccinelli has challenged him to 15 across the state.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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