Candidates To Debate In ’Burg?

Gillespie Accepts, Warner Considering Groups’ Offer

Posted: July 16, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie has accepted an invitation from James Madison University student groups to participate in a debate with incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Warner, who seeks his second six-year term in office on Nov. 4, was reviewing the request.

The JMU Student Government Association and university chapter of Virginia21, an advocacy group for young voters, is organizing the event. It’s scheduled for Sept. 10 in Wilson Hall.

Megan DiMaiolo, president of the JMU College Democrats, and Wes Fisher, chairman of the JMU College Republicans, wrote a joint letter inviting Gillespie and Warner.

They say a debate on campus will be an “exciting opportunity … to reach thoughtful and civic-minded students and citizens.”

“Whether voting Democrat or Republican, we believe that students and community members should have access to information regarding the candidates and their positions on important issues. That way, they can make an informed and educated decision on Election Day,” the letter reads.

Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, accepted the invitation Monday, when he also announced that he would be willing to debate Warner at George Mason University and the University of Virginia.

On Tuesday, Warner campaign spokesman David Turner said all of those debate opportunities are under review.

Gillespie has accepted invitations to eight debates overall. He and Warner will face off in their first debate July 26 at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was not invited. He has also not been invited to the JMU debate.

JMU political science professor Bob Roberts said it’s common for challengers such as Gillespie to seek as many debates as they can to match the name recognition of incumbents.

It also puts the candidate who seeks re-election on the defensive, he said.

“He’ll have 50 if he can,” Roberts said of Gillespie.

Roberts said he doesn’t recall a debate for major political office, such as governor or U.S. Senate, being held at JMU in his 30-year career. It’s not for lack of trying, he added.

College Democrats and Republicans have consistently sent requests to political candidates, but nobody has accepted until Gillespie, Roberts said.

The number of debates held in a given election year are normally fixed, he said, and the locations are typically in larger media markets than Harrisonburg.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or

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