Challenger criticizes Gabbard for avoiding debates prior to primary election

Challenger criticizes Gabbard for avoiding debates prior to primary election
Published: Jul. 12, 2018 at 1:07 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 12, 2018 at 7:48 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sherry Alu Campagna is one of two candidates challenging U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the Democratic primary.

But Campagna's hope for a debate doesn't look likely as election day approaches.

"If Congresswoman Gabbard doesn't show up for a debate -- and by not doing so, then I don't have an opportunity to speak. Or any other candidate," said Campagna. "It's not really about me."

Campagna is an environmental scientist and serves on the Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women. She has the endorsement of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which criticized the congresswoman's trip to meet with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

"When her interests stray too far from home and we don't feel adequately represented, that's an opportunity for someone who does the work of the people to stand up and say, 'I will be here, I will be here for you," she said.

Hawaii News Now issued an invitation to Gabbard last month for a one-on-one debate with Campagna. But the Gabbard campaign responded by email that "Tulsi will not be participating in a debate as she continues to communicate directly with voters across the district."

HNN also made requests last week for long-form interviews, and reminded the campaign of the open debate invitation. The campaign responded that Gabbard has been on National Guard duty since July 5, and will be in Washington, D.C., through at last July 27 while Congress is in session.

HNN Political Analyst Colin Moore said you can't force a candidate to debate.

"The standard wisdom is, don't debate if you don't have to if you're the incumbent," he said. "And I think Representative Gabbard is following that advice."

Gabbard was in Hawaii during the Independence Day break last week, appearing at the Hilo Gay Pride parade and other events. But no debates.

"The people of District 2, which represents the largest geography in our state, don't get the chance to hear who might represent them," said Campagna. "And that's just not fair."

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