MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Republican Senate candidate and U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn officially turned down an invitation to debate Democratic Senate candidate and former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen in a WMC Action News 5, Commercial Appeal and Rhodes College sponsored debate planned for September 13.
A campaign spokesperson for Congressman Blackburn emailed Friday saying the debate did not fit into the candidate's schedule, according to the college.
WMC Action News 5 and the Commercial Appeal extended the debate invitation to both Blackburn and Bredesen immediately following the August 2 primary with an August 10 deadline for accepting. Bredesen accepted the invitation on Monday, August 13, as one of four debates he proposed with Blackburn.
In an effort to secure full participation in the debate, several extensions were granted, but Blackburn eventually declined the invite.
"I'm disappointed voters in West Tennessee won't have the chance to hear the candidates debate the issues important to our part of the state," Rhodes President Marjorie Hass said. "I'd like to thank Governor Bredesen for his willingness to come to Rhodes and participate in what would have been an influential forum."
WMC reached out to both the Blackburn and Bredesen camps for reaction.
"In typical D.C. fashion and like the failed gubernatorial candidate Congressman Black, Congressman Blackburn is avoiding Tennessee voters," Bredesen for Senate Campaign Manager Bob Corney said. "Each of the grand divisions in Tennessee deserves to hear about issues affecting their regions, starting with Memphis. This year Tennesseans have a choice to do away with the Washington way and that's why Phil Bredesen is applying for the job."
"Unfortunately, the Rhodes College debate does not fit our schedule, but we are happy the debate on September 25 at Cumberland University does. We are looking forward to this debate and others," Blackburn for Senate Campaign Spokesman Abbi Sigler said.
On Monday, August 27, Blackburn announced on her website she accepted her first invitation to debate Bredesen, a September 25 event at Cumberland University. Bredesen agreed to all four proposed debate dates and locations.
"I think Congresswoman Blackburn is making a big mistake," said Rhodes College professor and WMC political analyst Michael Nelson.
He can only think of one reason why Blackburn gave the Bluff City debate the thumbs down.
"She must have internal polling, some kind of private polling that convinces her she's going to win without having to engage in more than one debate," Nelson said.
Rhodes College Democrats Madeleine Wright and Jess Gaughan view the race between Blackburn and Bredesen as one that could change the political tide in November.
"I was very hopeful," said Gaughan. "The debate could be an event where Memphians would hear issues that are important to them."
"As a female, it's important to me that she be heard," Wright said. "So I guess I'm really disappointed a woman running for this position is not taking every opportunity she has."
Governor Bredesen issued this response to WMC Action News 5:
"When there's just one debate, it really raises the stakes for that one debate," Nelson said.
With control of the U.S. Senate on the line, the Blackburn-Bredesen match-up is already a high stakes race.
"It's going to be close," Gaughan said.