MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Senate candidates Katie Britt and Rep. Mo Brooks this week challenged GOP primary rival Mike Durant to debate them ahead of next month's primary.
“I’ve agreed to multiple proposed debates between myself, Mike Durant and Mo Brooks. Congressman Brooks, to his credit, has also agreed. Why won’t Mr. Durant?” Britt wrote on Twitter this week.
Durant campaign adviser Scott Stone maintained Thursday afternoon that “Mike is not refusing to debate anyone." In an email he added that “Mike is busy traveling the state, talking with voters building the wall, ensuring election integrity, and defending the 2nd Amendment. Like Coach Tuberville, Mike is focused on meeting with voters, not playing political games with career politicians.”
The GOP primary in the conservative state will likely decide who succeeds GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring. The three Republicans are considered frontrunners in next month’s GOP primary for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Shelby.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl said the party offered to host a Senate debate as a resource to GOP voters and to the candidates ahead of the May 24 primary. He said they had floated several possible dates to the campaigns.
“Mo Brooks agreed to participate. Mike Durant could not work it out, and Katie Britt basically said if Mike Durant can’t make it, she was not interested,” Wahl said.
Wahl said it is “unlikely at this point” that the debate will happen.
Durant is a businessman best known as the helicopter pilot shot down and held prisoner in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident. Britt is Shelby’s former chief of staff and the former head of a state business group. Brooks represents Alabama’s 5th Congressional District after first being elected in 2010. Brooks, who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election win, was initially endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Trump rescinded the endorsement last month.
“There are multiple open-ended debate offers from groups throughout the state that are willing to be flexible to accommodate Mike Durant. If he actually was willing to debate, he would be willing to make one of those opportunities work,” Brooks campaign spokesman Will Hampson said Thursday.
The Britt campaign echoed that sentiment and a spokesman said that they are “100% in for a three-person debate.”
“No one knows what Mike Durant really believes, because he is hiding from debates, forums, the media, and questions from voters on the campaign trail ... The only logical conclusion is that the character Mike Durant plays on TV doesn’t match the person he is in real life,” Sean Ross wrote in an emailed statement.
It is not unusual for safe incumbents to refuse to debate, believing they have nothing to gain. but much to risk, by putting themselves on a debate stage. Shelby refused to debate a primary challenger in 2016, a decision Britt, as his then campaign spokeswoman, defended by saying Shelby had a record that was already well known to state voters. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in 2018 did not debate primary challengers or Democratic challenger Walt Maddox.
Steve Flowers, a political commentator, said this is different in that it is an open seat with no incumbent for the powerful office. He said Durant appears to be trying to “run out the clock” and run a race that depends mostly on television advertising.
“I call him a phantom candidate,” said Flowers.