Less than two weeks remain until the first Congressional District election, but GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his Democratic opponent Rob Zerban have yet to confront each other in a debate.
Under Wisconsin law, Ryan is able to run for reelection in his House seat while simultaneously running as the vice presidential nominee.
However, a debate that was scheduled to be hosted by Patch.com was recently cancelled.
T.J. Helmstetter, Zerban’s spokesperson, said the Ryan campaign’s claims that Zerban declined the invitation to the debate were “hilarious.” According to Helmstetter, Patch.com cancelled the debate only when the Ryan campaign did not respond to the site’s offer for one this month.
With the original debate rescheduled because of Ryan’s entry onto the presidential ticket, the new one was scheduled for later this month.
“Ryan owes it to Wisconsin voters,” Helmstetter said, “to discuss the issues, national and local, that affect his constituents’ lives.”
Helmstetter made it clear Zerban is ready to debate Ryan “anytime, anyplace,” whether in person, by Skype or by representatives reading a script from each candidate. He said the Zerban campaign has not backed out and would not back out of any debate.
According to Helmstetter, Zerban went to Kentucky during the vice presidential debate to “hammer this point across.”
Zerban campaign manger Al Benninghoff said the campaign collected more than 53,000 signatures asking for a debate between both candidates. He added Ryan cannot ignore the Congressional race and disregard his constituents.
“Running for office is a solemn duty,” Benninghoff said. “It’s important to defend your positions against your opponent.”
He added Ryan has shown throughout his time as the Republican vice presidential nominee that he has problems with telling the truth and that he needs to spend time in the district to regain the trust among his constituents.
Ryan for Congress campaign manager Kevin Seifert said Patch.com cancelled the debate in part because Zerban did not want to participate in it.
Although he said the campaign tried to set up a debate, Seifert pointed out by Ryan not debating, he is “following a precedent” set by the Democratic Party. He said Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Tex., did not participate in Congressional debates when they ran for higher office.
Seifert said people will be able to understand Ryan’s message and plans for the country from the nationally televised vice presidential debate.
“Voters from the first Congressional district got to see a clear picture of Ryan’s vision,” Seifert said.
He added that in the end, it will be that message that will ensure Ryan is reelected, not the “partisan gimmicks” Seifert said Zerban is using.
Jay Heck, executive director for Common Cause in Wisconsin, said it would be a good move for Ryan to debate Zerban. Having both candidates come together and debate the important issues in any election is “healthy for democracy,” Heck said.
“Whether the race is close or not is not important,” Heck said. “Showing the same respect and time to his constituents [Zerban] is.”