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KLAS cancels sole televised debate in Republican gubernatorial primary

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Election 2018IndyBlog

A televised debate between Nevada’s Republican gubernatorial candidates has been cancelled two days before it was scheduled to happen, meaning Republican primary voters will have had no opportunities to see the candidates face off before Election Day.

The campaigns of Jared Fisher and Treasurer Dan Schwartz confirmed the cancellation of a KLAS debate late Sunday. It happened after the last-minute addition of a fourth candidate — Frederick Conquest — to the roster on Saturday.

Instead of a multi-candidate debate, the four candidates will do 12-minute taped interviews that will be broadcast during the slot where the debate was set to happen, Fisher’s campaign said. 

At noon on Memorial Day, KLAS sent out a news release confirming the change: "In an effort to be as inclusive and informative as possible for Nevada voters, 8 News Now is modifying its format of our upcoming Gubernatorial Republican Primary Debate on May 29th. The change is due to the interpretation by the candidates of the qualifying criteria for the debate."

“This is real convenient for Adam Laxalt,” Fisher said in a press release. “It is well known by the other governor candidates, the media and voters that Laxalt avoids questions and is very well scripted.”

Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general, is far ahead of the other candidates in polls and in fundraising. But he rarely makes himself available for extended interviews, and Schwartz has criticized him for not accepting invitations to debates issued by the Republican Jewish Coalition and talk radio hosts Alan Stock and Kevin Wall.

The Fisher and Schwartz campaigns had pushed back against the addition of Conquest, saying his campaign is far less established than theirs and that he falls well short of the debate participation criteria. Both considered withdrawing from the debate in protest, and both raised the specter that Laxalt’s campaign had something to do with the last-minute addition of Conquest and the subsequent cancellation.

“I think that there is one candidate in the field who has vigorously tried to oppose being cross examined by Treasurer Schwartz,” said Schwartz campaign manager Rory McShane. “Even Jared Fisher has significantly more business experience than Mr. Laxalt and could probably trip him up on how to sum a spreadsheet.”

Laxalt's campaign sent out a release on Monday afternoon, saying the attorney general was "looking forward to participating in the primary debate that Channel 8 planned to host. Unfortunately several of the candidates did not meet the minimum criteria for participation. Adam still wanted to participate in a debate with the one other candidate who did meet the criteria, but he respects the decision by KLAS to change its format."

Laxalt's campaign spokesman also asserted that Schwartz didn't qualify: "It's sad that Dan Schwartz and his team are embarrassing themselves on this, considering his lifeless campaign was one of those that failed to meet even the bare minimum criteria to participate. The candidates were sent the qualification criteria weeks ago."

On May 1, KLAS emailed the Schwartz campaign: "Mr. Schwartz is approved to take part in the debate." Then, today it said they "incorrectly informed" the treasurer he met all of the criteria but allowed him to participate because he met all but one.

There were two televised debates between the Democratic primary frontrunners Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak. Fisher campaign spokeswoman Lisa Mayo-DeRiso said the new format opens Laxalt to fewer challenges.

“He doesn’t have to face anybody, he doesn’t have to answer on his feet, he doesn’t have to be quick on the draw,” she said. “Republican voters deserve better than this.”

This story was updated with a KLAS news release and one from Adam Laxalt at 2:50 PM on Memorial Day.

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

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