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MCKENZIE LANGE

Congressional candidate Lauren Boebert gives a speech during a campaign event in Grand Junction.

Lauren Boebert, the Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, has pulled out of the Club 20 debates set for later this month, but not for the same reasons as her Democratic opponent, Diane Mitsch Bush.

Boebert withdrew because the club, which had already altered its intended format due to Mitsch Bush’s withdrawal last month, refused to provide her with the questions it plans to ask in advance.

Instead of an actual debate, Club 20 had planned to allow Boebert to provide an opening statement, answer a few questions from group members and then give closing comments.

But Boebert’s campaign wanted the Western Slope advocacy group to provide it with its questions in advance, intending to produce a pre-recorded message answering them to be aired during Club 20’s fall conference Sept. 19.

The club refused, saying it never provides questions to candidates in advance.

“It appears that campaigns do not want to be accountable to voters, and trying to limit public exposure and don’t want to answer questions that are not scripted in advance,” said Club 20 Executive Director Christian Reece.

“Club 20 will not compromise the format or integrity of our debates for any candidate, Republican or Democrat. Club 20 asks candidates to answer hard questions in a transparent manner to help the voters of western Colorado better educate themselves,” Reece added. “Every candidate for political office should be able to answer policy questions and demonstrate to the public their stances on the critical issues impacting our region.”

Boebert did the same thing last month at the summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress, which did provide both candidates with its questions in advance. Instead of appearing live with Mitsch Bush at that online event, she produced a pre-recorded video. She was in Washington, D.C., at the time at the invitation of President Donald Trump to witness his acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention, which was largely held at the White House.

Boebert now becomes the third candidate this year to opt out of the well-known Club 20 debates, but the first Republican to do so.

It started when former Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would not attend a debate against Republican Cory Gardner for U.S. Senate, quickly followed by Mitsch Bush. While Hickenlooper’s campaign said it was because the debates historically have been unfair to Democrats, Mitsch Bush said her decision was because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Jared Polis was the first to withdraw from Club 20’s fall debates two years ago when he ran for governor.

As things stand now, the two congressional candidates are not scheduled to debate each other at all.

The managing editor of the Pueblo Chieftain, Steve Henson, said he’s given up trying to schedule a debate between the two candidates, saying one was insisting on requests to which the newspaper would not agree.

While Henson didn’t say which candidate that was, the Mitsch Bush campaign announced nearly a month ago that it had accepted the newspaper’s terms and would participate, calling on the Boebert campaign to follow suit.

“We have been working with both sides for more than a month and have been unable to reach agreement on a date,” Henson said. “We had not gotten to the point of discussing the particulars, but certainly the terms that have been suggested so far from one of the campaigns would not be acceptable to us. The entire purpose of a debate is to have spontaneous discussions of tough issues. They are not campaign events.”

To date, Hickenlooper and Gardner have accepted invitations for numerous debates, but the only one both have agreed to appear at will be sponsored by the Chieftain next month.

Mitsch Bush’s campaign said its candidate also has agreed to participate in a League of Women Voters debate, but Boebert has not.

“Diane invited Lauren Boebert to a debate in Pueblo because she believes that Coloradans deserve to hear directly from both candidates about their plans to lower health care costs, protect the ACA and people with pre-existing conditions, defend Colorado public lands and create good-paying jobs,” said her communications director, Caleb Cade. “Boebert should stop playing games and accept our challenge so that the people can hear her answers in her own words, not a pre-recorded script written by her consultants.”

Boebert spokesperson Laura Carno said it’s Mitsch Bush who is trying to duck debating.

“There can be no debate with only one person despite you or Club 20 saying so,” Carno said. “We were looking for a way to address the Club 20 members on issues important to them. We didn’t come to an agreement on that with Club 20. We are moving on.”

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