They can’t agree what to call it, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein and challenger Kevin de León will appear at an event together before next month’s election.
The two Democrats have committed to a discussion hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California. The event, which will take place in San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at noon, is set to be streamed online.
In an announcement Wednesday, Feinstein’s team labeled it a “debate.” De León, who has been demanding a debate with his opponent for months, firmly rejects that description.
“They are not allowed to address each other,” said spokesman Jonathan Underland, who also took issue with the time and limited reach of the livestream. “Debates are about access and who can watch it.”
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Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s longtime political consultant, said the two candidates will appear together onstage and answer questions from a moderator, which is essentially the same format as the only California gubernatorial debate, hosted by KQED earlier this week.
“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” Carrick said.
Feinstein turned down other debate opportunities, which Carrick said was due to scheduling conflicts. The PPIC event was set last week, he added, but their announcement was delayed because of the dispute over how to refer to it.
“Kevin de León can say any damn thing he wants,” Carrick said. “I don’t know what this childish semantics thing they’re into is all about.”
PPIC said the moderator may allow the candidates to respond to each other’s answers if a particular comment necessitates it. But the organization declined to wade into the rhetorical, ahem, debate.
“We feel like have a lot of substantive issues that we want to get through and we’re trying to maintain order,” spokeswoman Abby Cook said.
De León has relentlessly criticized his opponent for refusing to face off with him in public. In a fundraising email earlier this week, de León said “she is set on denying the people of California an opportunity to see and hear her debate.”
Facing few serious challengers, Feinstein has not debated since her 2000 re-election bid. Her team has promised she would square off with de León after the June primary, but until Wednesday’s announcement, it appeared nothing would materialize.
In a recent PPIC poll, Feinstein was ahead by 11 points, half the lead she held in July. With most Republicans indicating they are likely to sit out the contest between two Democrats, Feinstein has the support of more than half of likely voters in the race.
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 1:35 p.m. to reflect the dispute over whether event is a debate.