In one of Florida’s most competitive primary races taking place at the end of this month, people will have to vote without the benefit of having seen the candidates engage in a one-on-one debate.
St. Petersburg attorney Ben Diamond faces former Obama Defense Department official Eric Lynn in the House District 68 Democratic primary race in Pinellas County Aug. 30. The race may be too close to call, with both candidates releasing polls last week showing they are in the lead.
At a Tiger Bay Forum conducted earlier this summer, the candidates appeared to have extremely similar views on the issues. It prompted Diamond to challenge Lynn to as many as five to seven debates back in early July. But with early voting scheduled to commence this Saturday in Pinellas County, the candidates have engaged in a one-on-one candidates forum exactly zero times.
The two campaigns argued today about who had dropped the ball in attempting to get at least one debate organized, but the bottom line hasn’t changed — no debate appears to be on the horizon.
“It’s disappointing that no group seized on the opportunity to host a debate for the District 68 primary,” said Susan McGrath, chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee. “This is a race with two outstanding candidates and (with) the winner holding the seat for years, there is a high degree of interest among voters. Voters will need to avoid the distractions and do their homework by digging down and determining which candidate best reflects their interests.”
When contacted this morning about whether any debates were scheduled before the primary in two weeks, Meagan Salisbury, an official with Ben Diamond’s campaign, emailed back, “There haven’t been any debates. I reached out to Eric’s team to set up a schedule, but nobody got back to me.”
Not true, replied Team Lynn. They sent this reporter an exchange of emails that ended with Lynn writing to Diamond on Friday, July 8, calling on Diamond to have his campaign team contract, Robin Rorapaugh, Lynn’s campaign manager.
This is the email sent from Lynn to Diamond on Wednesday, July 6:
I hope alls well with your family. I’m happy to have debates about important issues for voters in the District and for our teams to work on dates that work in our schedules and to discuss the best format, etc. However, if you sincerely want to arrange debates and not score political and press points, then just send me a note and we can work it out before sending it to the press before I have even seen your email.
I look forward to policy discussions at debates and forums and appreciate our discussion at Panera and your commitment to keep the campaign positive and on policy issues. I suggest reaching out to the League of Women Voters as they host well run debates and forums for voters on important issues.
This is an email sent from Diamond to Lynn on Thursday, July 7.
Thanks for your email response and acceptance to a series of debates. I believe voters should hear from us directly and have the opportunity to talk with us and ask us questions. This was not intended as a political stunt. Rather, my thought in publicly calling for debates was that it would help let more voters know about the upcoming primary election, and give them a chance to learn more about our positions on the issues.
I suggest five debates and if you agree, we can turn this over to our teams to work out the rest of the schedule. I think the League of Women Voters is an excellent suggestion for a host for one, and we can have our teams work on finding hosts for the other four.
My best to your family as well and I will see you out on the campaign trail.
And Lynn’s response on Friday, July 8.
Ben – Thanks for your note. Have your team contact Robin at email@example.com and they can discuss schedule and what’s feasible.
That’s when the Lynn folks say the email exchange ended, with no response from Team Diamond.
“My campaign not only agreed to debates, but responded on July 6 to suggest Pinellas League of Women Voters as a venue and a campaign person for him to contact, to which there was no reply from the Diamond camp. It becomes clearer every day that the race is not going well for the Diamond campaign,” Lynn said in a statement sent to FloridaPolitics Tuesday. “I am disappointed that Ben is so desperate he continues to spread untruths about a fellow Democrat.”
But the evidence contradicts Lynn, if you go by sent emails.
Salisbury issued two separate emails to Rorapaugh. One was on that same day that Lynn wrote to Diamond, July 8. The second came two weeks later, on July 20.
Date: Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 2:38 PM
Subject: District 68 Debates
To: Robin Rorapaugh
My name is Meagan, and I’m Ben Diamond’s campaign manager. I reached out on July 8, but I hadn’t heard back from you. I wanted to reach out to introduce myself and see which dates look good for the five debates that Eric and Ben discussed earlier in the month. Additionally, I wanted to see if you had suggestions for hosts. I’ve already reached out to the League of Women Voters and the Council of Neighborhood Associations, and I’m waiting on a response.Thanks!
“I did not receive any emails from a Meagan,” she writes. “I always respond to emails and kept an eye out for any about debates. Nothing.”
Salisbury then responded by sending this reporter screenshots of her emails send to Rorapaugh, which confirms that she did send out two emails to Rorapaugh on July 8 and July 20, never eliciting a response.
The winner of the Aug. 30 Democratic primary will face Republican JB Bensmihen in November.