Up for debate: Challenger awaits response from GOP candidate

A week after 6th Congressional District Democratic candidate Jennifer Garrison challenged Republican incumbent Bill Johnson to a series of seven debates in a letter, the Democratic challenger is still awaiting an answer.

A letter mailed from Garrison’s campaign office to Johnson’s office July 2 challenged the incumbent to speak out in front of constituents throughout the 18 counties the district covers.

Garrison said the debates are a fair way for voters to learn the differences between the two candidates, while Johnson’s office reported that any planned debates between the two of them should wait until after Labor Day, and chose to minimize any other response.

“There will be plenty of time for political campaigning and candidate forums after Labor Day and Bill is committed to participate in candidate forums at that time,” said Sarah Poulton, Johnson’s campaign manager in a statement.

But Garrison said she wants action as early as August.

“We think it’s important for taxpayers to understand the difference to make an informed decision in November,” she said. “I’m about transparency and an informed electorate, and I’m not satisfied with the status quo and I don’t think voters in the 6th district are.”

While the election is Nov. 4 early voting in Ohio will begin Oct. 7.

Marietta voter Nancy Hathaway, 71, said debates are best for people who want to learn more about a candidate if they are not familiar with him or her already.

“I definitely think it would helpful to have them here, so people know what they stand for and who they are,” she said. “But I do think it might be too early for it, because I think people tend to forget.”

In the letter, Garrison called on plans to schedule debates in the seven media markets within the district, including Marietta.

Poulton said Johnson is spending the summer months visiting the district’s 18 counties to stop what she said are harmful economic policies from the Democratic party.

Garrison said she would like for both candidates to take part in debates without knowing the questions ahead of time, rather than townhall-like meetings where questions are planned in advance.

“I think we’ll continue to put the pressure on him to do the right thing,” she said. “If he doesn’t respond to us, maybe he will respond to the public.”

While Garrison waits on a response from Johnson, her office is looking for venues across the district that would be willing to host a debate, and plans on scheduling seven anyway and inviting Johnson whether he accepts or not.

“Although Jennifer Garrison seems eager to start the campaign season early and bring scrutiny to her partisan record, once she makes her way around the entire district, she may regret that eagerness,” Poulton said. “That’s because her liberal policies and support of Obamacare and its advocates will be about as popular with people in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio as Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are.”

Garrison argued that she is actively distinguishing herself as an individual candidate.

“I’m not Nancy Pelosi and I’m not President Obama,” she said. “I didn’t vote for the Affordable Care Act, and I support coal.”

Leslie Haas, executive committee chairwoman of the Washington County Republican Party, said though debates are always a good campaigning procedure, now might just be too soon.

“Debates are always helpful, especially for people who haven’t been paying attention and need to make their decision,” Haas said. “I don’t think people are terribly tuned in yet, and I think there is an issue with things going too early.”

Washington County Democratic Party chairwoman Willa O’Neill said there is a reality that people do not pay much attention to the election this early on, but that makes an earlier debate even more important.

“Generally as we get closer to that November date, people start paying more attention, but I also think that it would be a good idea for people to pay more attention and to become more informed,” she said.

O’Neill said it is common for many people to lose interest if it is not a presidential election year, not realizing that local officials affect their day to day lives so much.

Mike Craig, 42, of Marietta, said for many people, one debate or even seven debates would not make a difference.

“I’m a complete Democrat, so any debate they hold is not going to sway my opinion,” he said. “But I guess it can give people a good idea of what they want to vote for, especially if it’s at the last minute and they can’t decide.”