Issa won't debate Democratic opponent
North County Times (2010-09-22) Mark Walker
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More Info: CA 50 Congressional District
REGION: Issa won't debate Democratic opponent
SPOKESMAN SAYS CONGRESSMAN FOCUSED ON WATCHDOG ROLE
Rep. Darrell Issa won't debate his 49th Congressional District opponents because he is focused on his watchdog role over the federal government and the Obama administration, his spokesman Kurt Bardella said this week.
Bardella was responding to Issa's Democratic opponent Howard Katz, who contends the five-term incumbent agreed to a debate when the two chatted at a July 3 parade in Oceanside.
Katz sent out a picture Tuesday showing him and the 56-year-old Issa talking at the event where he swears the promise was made.
"When that picture was being taken, I was asking him about a debate and he said, 'Certainly, just make it on a date that works with my schedule so I can come,'" said Katz, a Temecula resident.
Bardella denied that Issa, R-Vista, ever agreed to debate whether he should continue to represent the district that includes much of North County and Southwest Riverside County.
"The topic of a debate never came up," Bardella said Tuesday. "He (Issa) has never made any kind of promise or commitment to debate."
Katz, a clear underdog in a heavily Republican district, recalls matters much differently.
"The spokesman is telling a fib," he said. "Issa's word was 'yes,' and that is all I can say."
Bardella said Issa is concentrating on his role as the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a powerful panel he will lead if the GOP wins enough seats on Nov. 2 to wrest control of the House from the Democrats.
"This is a situation where the economy is in a free fall and the people are in a free fall," Bardella said. "The congressman is focused on doing his job and continuing the process of conducting oversight."
Katz, 69, is not getting any help from the national Democratic Party and has raised very little money.
That contrasts with Issa, one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Issa's advantages include having a formidable campaign war chest in a district where Republicans heavily outnumber Democrats. Katz acknowledged his odds of upsetting Issa are long, calling the race a "David versus Goliath" matchup.
Libertarian candidate Mike Paster of Fallbrook also says he's frustrated that Issa won't debate. Last week, Paster said he was unsuccessful in repeated efforts to get someone from Issa's office to respond to his call for a debate.
Incumbent officeholders' refusal to debate is nothing new. Established politicians can risk a seemingly easy road to re-election by committing a gaffe in a debate with overmatched challengers, said Jack Pitney, a respected political science professor at Claremont Mc Kenna
College and a former Capital Hill staffer.
"Safe incumbents generally don't like to debate for fear of making a mistake that could turn the race against them," he said of Issa's stance. "But if it were a close race and he thought a debate would help him, I guarantee his schedule would clear and he would be there."
In the 52nd Congressional District, which includes portions of Poway and Ramona, Democrat Ray Lutz and Libertarian Michael Benoit made hay earlier this year over Rep. Duncan Hunter's refusal to appear at a series of debates.
The hunger strike they launched in August made national news, but ultimately was unsuccessful in persuading the freshman Republican to agree to more than one debate.
In the 50th Congressional District, Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, has agreed to three appearances with Democratic challenger Francine Busby.
In the 45th Congressional District, which includes parts of Southwest Riverside County, Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack has had one debate thus far with her Democratic challenger, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.
"Even though most voters don't go or listen to them, debates are good things so people can get a measure of the candidates," Pitney said.
As for getting a measure of Issa, Bardella said voters need only look at his record.
"The people of the district will make their determination based on the job the congressman has been doing. He has a 10-year relationship with them, and frankly they're better served if Congress is focused on creating more jobs than having congressmen worry about keeping their jobs."
Call staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.