Dave Brat, the Republican candidate running for Eric Cantor’s former congressional seat in the 7th District, on Thursday defended his reluctance to participate in public debates with his opponents, claiming the media is unwilling to focus on the issues he thinks are most important in the race.
“The problems with debates and forums, they’re all … I love it, but, the major obstacle that I have run into right now is that 400 or 500 people show up at the debate. Then who’s the filter on those debates? The press. That’s the issue, right?” Brat told supporters at a campaign event at the American Legion Post 175 in Mechanicsville.
Brat said that throughout his campaign, he has been attempting to drive home the message that increasing entitlement spending — mainly from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Bush prescription-drug plan — has resulted in $127 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
He said the media have largely ignored that message.
“That’s the most pressing problem in the country in my view,” he said. “Guess how many times the press has asked me about the $127 trillion? Not one.”
Brat’s comments come after reports that he has avoided debating his opponents — Democrat Jack Trammell and Libertarian James Carr — in public. The Republican has lashed out against the media several times in the past seven days, claiming that he has been misquoted on his views on immigration.
Trammell reiterated Friday that the tradition of open debate is one that has been part of Virginia’s 400-year history.
“The media has always played a critical role in providing the public with reliable information in preparation to vote. From the beginning of my candidacy, I have openly embraced an open discourse. We need people in Washington who accept the pressure of providing full disclosure,” Trammell said.
Brat spokesman Brian Gottstein issued a response for Brat on Friday night: “There are two debates scheduled, and the candidates have attended a variety of other forums. Dave also meets with hundreds and often thousands of people each week on the campaign trail. To say Dave is unwilling to debate, is avoiding debates or is inaccessible to the public is simply false.”
To date, Brat has agreed to participate in one debate on Oct. 28 at Randolph-Macon College, where he and Trammell teach. Carr was not invited.
Brat also agreed to attend a public forum hosted by the Goochland Chamber of Commerce in Richmond on Oct. 23. His campaign is touting the event as a “debate,” but Ed Lawton, board president of the Goochland Chamber, said the event was planned in forum format and that while candidates will be on stage at the same time, they will not debate or directly address one another.
While Brat spoke to his supporters at the VFW post in Mechanicsville on Thursday, Trammell and Carr joined a panel of health care professionals at a Henrico County school to discuss the impact of the Affordable Care Act.