While Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler persistently pestered former eight-term Congressman Charles Taylor to debate him two years ago to no avail (two planned debates between the candidates fell through over details), his opponent this time around, Republican Carl Mumpower, claims the freshman incumbent has conveniently lost his desire to go mano a mano in public.
Mumpower, who earlier suggested the two take part in debates in all of the 15 counties that make up the 11th Congressional District—or else take part in a “vacation debate” this month while Shuler is in recess from Congress—says his opponent has not only resisted those challenges but also every single request from a handful of organizations that have requested that the two appear together.
Asked whether anything has changed since Mumpower and others began calling for debates, Shuler campaign spokesman Andrew Whalen told Xpress, “There’s nothing new on that front, and I doubt there will be.” In a follow-up phone message later in the day on Aug. 18, however, Whalen seemed to indicate debates weren’t totally out of the question, but he remained vague.
“No decisions have been made yet on any debates,” Whalen said in the follow-up. “We’re still looking at the schedule. There’s a lot of invitations that have come in. But no decision has been made as of this point. We’re still discussing it within the campaign.”
One reason Shuler may be hesitant to debate is the fact that some Washington political handicappers now say Shuler is all but assured of re-election. “But I think he’s just dodging,” says Mumpower, who adds that at this point in the campaign there is no proof, polling or otherwise, that indicates Shuler is a shoo-in, despite holding a whopping money advantage and incumbent name recognition.
“Political animals are woefully adverse to debating; leaders are willing to step forward,” Mumpower says. “I think it’s very hypocritical for this gentleman, who in the last election spoke so enthusiastically for the importance of debates, to dodge them in this election. … I think it’s obvious he’s afraid to debate.”
Noting Shuler’s money and other advantages, Mumpower says, “I’ve said from day one I am not going to buy a seat in Congress. I’m going to run hard on the issues and getting in front of people. So debating is important [to my campaign]. But I’m going to debate Heath Shuler whether he participates or not.”
Debate or no—and money or no—Mumpower says he continues to run a vigorous grassroots campaign online and face-to-face, traversing the district on a consistent basis. Rumors of his political death in the race are greatly exaggerated, he says.
“When I suspended my campaign for four days, people jumped all over that,” he says, noting his decision to use the tactic to garner pledges from a majority of the district’s various county Republican parties to uphold a set of traditional Republican values he believes have been warped and sullied during the Bush Administration. “[People] said, ‘Game over,’ which is a bunch on nonsense,” he says. “We went from no counties to 11 counties and were back on line in four days. Those who have faith in our political experts can listen to them. I’m on my mission; I’ll let them speculate and guess as they wish. I would not be running hard if I didn’t think I had a chance of winning.”