The race for north-central Indiana's congressional seat could run its full course without voters seeing the two major-party candidates side by side in a televised debate.
Republican Jackie Walorski announced last week that she will participate in two debates sponsored by the Wabash Chamber of Commerce and WSBT Radio, even though organizers are still in the process of setting dates, times and formats for those events.
Meanwhile, the American Democracy Project and Political Science Club of Indiana University South Bend and the League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area are moving ahead with a debate that will be broadcast live from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 on WNIT Television -- even if Walorski doesn't attend. Democrat Brendan Mullen and Libertarian Joe Ruiz are both planning to take part in that debate.
IUSB and the league also organized debates between Indiana's 2nd District congressional candidates in 2008 and 2010.
Elizabeth Bennion, a political science professor and campus director of the American Democracy Project, said she began planning this year's debate in July. Mullen and Ruiz accepted the invitations quickly, she said. Walorski's campaign responded Sept. 17 that she wouldn't participate.
Bennion said she hopes Walorski will change her mind, especially because the former state representative is widely considered to be the race's front-runner.
"There is a podium waiting for her, if she is able to join us," Bennion said in an e-mail. "We plan to host every two years with whichever candidates accept our invitation. This year's debate would certainly be enriched by the participation of all three candidates."
Walorski's campaign manager, Brendon DelToro, said she stands by her debate decisions. She said in a statement last week that the Wabash debate will be an opportunity for people in the southern part of the 2nd District to hear from the candidates, and the WSBT debate would be accessible via radio, the Internet and on SBT2-TV.
But Bob Montgomery, director of news and talk programming for WSBT Radio Group, said it's questionable at this point that there will be a WSBT debate. He said the campaigns still need to agree on a time and format.
"It's just too early to say whether one will happen or not," Montgomery said. "We're in the extremely preliminary stages in the talks -- with the emphasis on the word 'extremely.' "
Another issue is that WSBT invited only Mullen and Walorski -- and not Ruiz -- to debate. All three candidates are invited to the Wabash debate.
"I think it's an injustice to the people that they've chosen to exclude me," Ruiz said of WSBT. "I'm going to take whatever steps are necessary to be a part of that debate."
Mullen's campaign has sided with Ruiz, saying all candidates on the ballot should be included.
Walorski's campaign has stated that decisions regarding debate participants are up to debate organizers. "There are currently two candidates who have been actively campaigning and raising money, and have distinctly different views about the future direction of this country," DelToro said, referring to Mullen and Walorski. "Voters should have the opportunity to hear from both sides."
Mullen's campaign manager, Andy Reynolds, said it would be a shame if the two major-party candidates don't appear together in debate on TV.
"A debate is the voters' chance to have a pure look at the issues and the candidates in their truest form," Reynolds said. "It would be a real disservice to the 2nd District and Hoosier voters to not have that discussion."
Staff writer Kevin Allen: