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New Mexico House GOP hopeful spurns debate invitations

October 25, 2018 GMT
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FILE - In this May 24, 2018 file photo, GOP Congressional hopeful Yvette Herrell talks to voters at a forum in Hobbs, New Mexico. Herrell has declined to respond to offers by three television stations to participate in a debate between her and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
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FILE - In this May 24, 2018 file photo, GOP Congressional hopeful Yvette Herrell talks to voters at a forum in Hobbs, New Mexico. Herrell has declined to respond to offers by three television stations to participate in a debate between her and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Voters for a closely watched southern New Mexico U.S. House race likely won’t get a chance to see a televised debate after the GOP hopeful ignored invites and rejected dates without giving alternatives.

Television news directors confirmed Wednesday that Republican nominee Yvette Herrell declined to respond to offers by three television stations to participate in a debate between her and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, or told organizers that dates didn’t work. When asked to provide other days for a debate, her campaign didn’t respond, the news directors said.

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Herrell’s campaign also rejected an offer from a group of high school students to host a debate that would have been televised on the PBS-affiliate KRWG-TV in Las Cruces, the station’s Director of Content Fred Martino.

“She rejected the date,” Martino said.

In addition, Martino said Herrell’s campaign did not respond to an offer for a debate extended weeks ago. When the station finally set a day for a League of Women Voters of Greater Las Cruces forum with Torres Small, Martino said the Herrell camp said a scheduling conflict prevented her attendance.

“We went ahead and interviewed Torres Small,” Martino said.

KOAT-TV news director Greg Shepperd also confirmed that the Herrell campaign also did not return messages to solidify dates for a debate while Torres Small agreed to participate.

“Yes, we never received a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from the Herrell team,” Shepperd said. “On multiple occasions, they told us they were ‘checking schedules’ and would let us know soon.”

KRWG-TV in Las Cruces and KOB-TV and KOAT-TV in Albuquerque reached out to both candidates about debates.

KOB-TV News Director Tim Maestas said the Herrell campaign told the station she could not agree to a debate because it required traveling to Albuquerque, and Albuquerque was not part of their campaign trail. “The Torres Small campaign would not commit to a debate until they had assurance that Herrell would participate,” Maestas said.

Torres Small campaign manager Brian Sowyrda said it’s now too late for a debate because the election is less than two weeks away.

“We were willing to work around their schedule,” Sowyrda said. “Xochitl agreed to participate in all of them because she felt it was important for voters.”

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Herrell senior aide Rob Burgess declined to respond to the comments from the news directors and pointed to a previous campaign statement that said Herrell could not attend a KOAT-TV debate because she was meeting with voters. Burgess said Herrell previously participated in non-televised, community forums with Torres Small.

Herrell is scheduled to attend a Republican rally on Friday with Vice President Mike Pence.

Herrell, 54, defeated her GOP primary opponents after expressing staunch support for President Donald Trump and his plan for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The state lawmaker from Alamogordo, New Mexico, is a real estate businesswoman, a conservative on social issues and is endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

Torres Small, 33, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up Mormon, rarely mentions Trump on the campaign trail and has promised to support the area’s oil and gas economy. The avid hunter who runs ads showing her with her guns is vowing to push for immigration reform and border security.

Democrats have long targeted the heavily Hispanic congressional district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. But the district has stayed in GOP hands for years.

The seat is open because the incumbent Republican, Rep. Steve Pearce, is running for governor.

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This story corrects the name of the Torres Small campaign representative who said the candidate had agreed to all debate offers.

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