Correction to This Article
An Aug. 7 Metro article about debates in Virginia's congressional races incorrectly referred to state House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) as the chamber's minority leader.

House candidates dueling not just over records but about debates

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2010

The "debate over debates" is in full swing in Virginia's congressional contests, with Republican and Democratic hopefuls squabbling over how often and with whom they should square off in public.

On the one subject where dueling candidates are forced to agree, the contenders in three races have been unable or unwilling to do so.

Freshman Reps. Glenn Nye (D) and Tom Perriello (D) both want conservative-leaning independent candidates included in their debates, while their Republican opponents are resisting. And veteran Rep. Rick Boucher (D) has so far agreed to only one debate, while his GOP challenger has proposed more than two dozen.

The disputes over debate planning -- and the debates themselves, if they happen -- may not be game-changers in any of those races, but they are a window into the campaigns' strategies as November approaches.

"Debates are really an important forum in this election," said Nye campaign spokeswoman Leah Nelson, saying they are among the "few opportunities that these candidates really have to speak on substantive issues."

Nye's team has been battling with the campaign of auto dealer Scott Rigell (R) over whether Kenny Golden -- the former Virginia Beach GOP chairman now running as an independent -- should be included in their debates in the 2nd District.

Rigell's campaign doesn't want Golden participating unless Golden reaches the 15 percent mark in at least three independent polls -- the same standard used for inclusion in general election presidential debates. (There is one key difference: While presidential races are polled daily by a variety of sources, there may not be three independent polls of the 2nd District contest between now and November.)

Nye doesn't think there should be any statistical bar to Golden's participation.

"Glenn believes that the debates should be open to everyone who qualified for the ballot," Nelson said.

Nye and Golden are both planning to attend an Aug. 19 debate at a Virginia Beach high school, but Rigell won't be there. Nye, in turn, has declined invitations from other groups that didn't include Golden.

"They are terrified to debate Scott Rigell one-on-one," said Rigell campaign manager Jason Miyares.

Polling numbers are also at the root of the fight in the 5th District, where two television stations have withdrawn offers to produce debates between Perriello and state Sen. Robert Hurt (R) because the candidates could not agree on the criteria for including Jeffrey Clark, an independent.

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