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Duffy campaign took lead in planning debates; Hoeft disputes process

As people began to vote in Wisconsin last week, the race for the 7th Congressional District heated up. Campaigns for U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., and democratic challenger, Mary Hoeft, are sparring over a proposed debate schedule. During a campa...

As people began to vote in Wisconsin last week, the race for the 7th Congressional District heated up. Campaigns for U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., and democratic challenger, Mary Hoeft, are sparring over a proposed debate schedule.

During a campaign stop in Superior last week, Hoeft said the Duffy campaign excluded her campaign when they scheduled debates in Wausau and Hayward.

"I was disheartened to learn, that on Thursday (Sept. 22) that the Duffy Campaign had arranged their own debates", said Hoeft, "(they) set their own dates that were so late, Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, that early voting would have already closed."

Hoeft said Duffy "cherry-picked" the last possible days to hold debates in both Wausau and Hayward. She's concerned voters who wish to hear the candidates talk side-by-side will be denied that opportunity.

Mark Bednar, a spokesman with the Duffy campaign, said they chose the days leading up to the election so that the information would be fresh in voters' minds. He added there are no grounds for Hoeft's complaints.

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"The Duffy team took the initiative to reach out, to find a way to make sure that the voters could here from the candidates", Bednar said.

He said the Duffy campaign did not feel organizations that had sent invitations would receive the widest audience, and the campaign was committed to ensuring candidates would reach as many voters as possible. He also noted the two campaigns had been emailing back and forth for several days in an attempt to arrange a debate.

Despite initial contact, Hoeft said a formal agreement was never reached. She said a representative from the Duffy campaign cancelled a phone meeting before a media release with dates was published two weeks ago.

In emails obtained by Wisconsin Public Radio, Sue Hansen, manager for the Hoeft campaign, does write to Darrin Schmitz with the Duffy Campaign, inviting Sean Duffy to any event so the candidates could appear together and that, "we will gladly rearrange our schedule to fit his (Duffy)."

"Through the media, you know this is documented in print and on TV, that we would be reaching out with dates and times," Bednar said. "The Hoeft team through emails has indicated that they were very accommodating to a debate schedule and we also threw out information to them on here's what we're thinking on dates and times. And this all happened prior to any press release."

Despite her campaign's emails to the Duffy campaign, Hoeft maintains that she has been "blindsided" by the release of a debate schedule without prior knowledge.

"He's (Duffy) very carefully cherry-picked who is going to do that debate", Hoeft said, "so that the tough questions are not asked of him."

If the Duffy campaign was trying to sway debate panelists in their favor, Bednar said, they would not have invited members of the media.

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"The way that (Duffy) would be trying to hide and avoid a debate or trying to put things into your own situation," Bednar said, "is to go debate on a street corner where no one's watching."

In a letter to the Telegram received Sunday, Hoeft said she will participate in the debates scheduled for Nov. 3 at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau or the Nov. 4 debate at Hayward High School.

"My highest concern is that listeners have a chance to hear us speak about the issues facing working families," Hoeft wrote.

Copyright © 2016 by WPR.org and Wisconsin Public Radio. All rights reserved. Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on KUWS 91.3-FM and online at www.wpr.org .

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