ST. GEORGE — The Utah Debate Commission recently released its schedule for state and federal-level candidate debates, and this time one of them won’t be sporting a D or an R after their name, but an L instead.
The upcoming debates – set between Sept. 24 and Oct. 21 – will feature the traditional pairing of Republican and Democratic candidates vying to either retain seats or replace incumbents in the gubernatorial, congressional and state attorney general races.
All except the debate to be held for candidates seeking to represent the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Southwest Utah.
The debate for the 2nd Congressional District will feature three candidates instead of the usual two. It will include Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart and Democratic challenger Kael Weston, as well as Libertarian candidate J. Robert Latham.
In order to qualify for the commission debates, candidates must be able to achieve a 10% threshold of support from polled voters. However, as the polls used by the debate commission also have a margin of error of nearly 4.4%, candidates who achieved 5.6% and above still qualified for the debate stage. Latham came in at 6.5% and was the only third-party candidate among the collective races to do so.
Other Libertarian candidates that almost made the mark were gubernatorial candidate Danial Cottam at 5% and Utah attorney general candidate Rudy Bautista at 5.3%.
Stewart polled 47.8% while Kael came in at 28.4% of voter support in the 2nd District Congressional race. The debate between the three candidates will be held on Oct. 19.
“As a fourth-generation Utahn and longtime district resident, I am grateful for the opportunity to be the Libertarian Party’s first candidate invited to participate in this forum,” Latham said in an email to St. George News.
In a phone interview that accompanied the email, Latham added he felt it was ironic that he, someone who has long criticized what he calls the “under-inclusive design” of the debates, will now be participating in one.
“It’s unusual and it’s something I’ve been advocating for a long time,” Latham said.
Latham pointed to an example from the 2016 Utah attorney general’s race as a reason the current debate system either needs to be reformed and why more people need to prop up debates organized outside of the Utah Debate Commission.
On the eve of a debate to be held at Dixie State University, Democratic candidate Jon Harper abruptly withdrew from the race due to undisclosed health issues. This resulted in a “modified” debate that left incumbent Attorney General Sean Reyes the sole candidate on the stage, yet not the only one in attendance.
Andrew McCullough, the Libertarian candidate for the position, was also present at the debate that evening, Latham said.
Despite calls from some debate attendees to allow McCullough to take Harper’s place on the debate stage, the commission would not allow it as he hadn’t reached the same polling threshold Reyes and Harper had.
“It was a farce,” he said.
As for his being able to qualify for the debate stage now, Latham gave credit to the voters.
“Voters in Utah’s Second Congressional District deserve the credit for – and will be the beneficiaries of – the Utah Debate Commission’s inclusion of a Libertarian perspective.” he said in the email, and added over the phone that “In my experience when I have seen Libertarians get included in debates, they have really improved discussions.”
Sept. 24 at 6 p.m.
|1st Congressional District||
|Sept. 29 at 6 p.m.||Utah Governor||
|Oct. 7 at 6 p.m.||Vice Presidential Debate||
|Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.||4th Congressional District||
|Oct. 15 at 6 p.m.||3rd Congressional District||
|Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.||2nd Congressional District||
|Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.||Utah Attorney General||
Debates will be streamed live over Facebook and the Utah Debate Commission website. Additional information on what television channels will be carrying the debates, as well as pending venue locations, can be found here.
The poll the Utah Debate Commission used was conducted by Lighthouse Research from Aug 31 through Sept. 12 and carries a 4.38% margin of error.
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