Gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom and John Cox appear deadlocked over terms of a televised debate ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Cox, a Republican businessman, is pushing for a series of five debates. Newsom, the Democratic lieutenant governor, has agreed to only one, hosted by CNN and nationally televised on Oct. 1.
But Cox’s campaign hasn’t agreed to the CNN debate, and issued a set of demands about the issues to be covered.
Campaign spokesman Matt Shupe said Cox would only participate if Newsom agrees to their format, focusing on six major California issues: The state’s housing shortage, its high cost of living, homelessness, education, clean water and safe schools. The campaign said it was willing to consider other issues in the debate if Newsom wants to propose them. The Cox campaign also demanded only California journalists moderate a debate.
“The John Cox for Governor campaign prefers a series of three to five debates, but if Newsom will only agree to one, then the Cox campaign will agree, but only if Newsom will agree to a debate of substantive issues affecting Californians,” Shupe said in a campaign email.
Newsom spokesman Nathan Click confirmed that the lieutenant governor will only participate in the CNN debate. Newsom has a wide lead over Cox in both public opinion polling and fundraising.
Both Newsom and Cox have made affordability the central message of their campaigns. Focusing on housing, homelessness and education would allow Cox to dodge questions that could make him uncomfortable in a state that leans heavily Democratic. Cox has declined interviews to discuss several other issues in recent months, including his views on abortion rights (he opposes them), climate change (he has said he isn’t sure if climate change human-caused) and immigration (he supports President Donald Trump’s border wall and wants to penalize companies that employ undocumented immigrants).
A focus on housing and homelessness could also raise vulnerabilities for Newsom, who has said “fair game” to critics who say Democrats are to blame for California’s homelessness and housing crises.
Cox has blasted Newsom for his leadership in San Francisco, a city that has attracted national attention for its problems with homelessness, feces littering the streets and blatant drug use.
Cox’s campaign said they’ve agreed to a nationally televised Fox News debate in late September, as part of a five-debate series. Others could include CNN and San Francisco Chronicle debates.
But neither Shupe, nor campaign manager Tim Rosales, would commit to the CNN debate, even if Newsom were to agree to their demands.
Instead, Rosales said in an email that the Cox campaign “think(s) the criteria is pretty reasonable… Californians deserve a debate about California issues. The ball is really in Gavin Newsom’s court…”
Click said Newsom’s campaign would not dictate terms of a debate to CNN.
“We believe strongly in the freedom of the press and we’re not about to tell a news organization what they can or can’t ask,” Click said.