One of the Republicans running for governor in 2020 is calling for 10 primary debates to help voters assess the field.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox on Tuesday sent a letter to fellow candidates U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and state Sen. Al Olszewski. He proposed 10 live debates between Nov. 4 and May 18, 2020, in advance of the primary to be held June 2, 2020.
Gianforte shook up the GOP primary and caused a ripple effect through statewide Republican candidates in June when he announced that instead of seeking reelection to the U.S. House he would launch a bid for governor. Fox had already announced his campaign in January. Olszewski also announced his run for governor in January. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton also said in January he wanted to be governor, but switched to the U.S. House race after Gianforte joined the governor primary.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is term-limited from running again and is campaigning to be his party's presidential nominee. Fox is also term-limited from seeking reelection as attorney general and has dinged other Republicans for trying to jump to new offices this election cycle when they could instead seek reelection. That includes Gianforte.
In his letter calling for the debates, Fox said they would give Montanans a chance to better know the candidates.
"Montanans deserve a process where candidates discuss issues of importance and relevance. A process in which we, the candidates, have the opportunity to stack our ideas up against the others'. A process to hold each other accountable in front of the people whose votes we seek," Fox wrote. The debates, he said, would be in locations around the state and have media coverage. He didn't clarify who would moderate or host, but said campaign teams could coordinate with each other.
Gianforte said Wednesday in a statement he is anticipating debates, though the statement did not address if he would support 10 debates or another number.
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"Greg looks forward to debating, emphasizing his business leadership experience and consistent conservative credentials, as the campaign progresses," a campaign spokesperson said. "In the meantime, Greg will continue serving all Montanans in Congress and campaigning for governor with his positive vision for Montana's future."
Olszewski said Wednesday he's open to the idea.
"If we're going to have that many debates, if we can drive down into the issues and different policies, and really get into what we would do as governor, then I'm for it," Olszewski said. "The more times we can get in front of the public and make a pitch for how we would handle policy and situations, I think that's better for the voters."
In a press release Tuesday, Fox took a swipe at Gianforte's ability to self-fund his campaign and the role that could play in the election.
"Elections are about more than just media sound bites and expensive advertising," Fox said in the release. "Voters should have the opportunity to see a candidate's leadership style and temperament in action, and hear how they'll put their ideas to work for the people of Montana. These debates will provide voters that opportunity."
Gianforte sold his tech company RightNow to Oracle in 2012 for about $1.5 billion. In his first run for governor in 2016, when he lost to incumbent Democrat Bullock, he poured more than $5 million of his own cash into his campaign. During his successful run for U.S. House in a 2017 special election, he loaned his campaign $1.5 million.
So far in the 2020 governor's race, however, he out-raised the other candidates. In just the month after announcing, he pulled in more than $534,000, in addition to $50,000 of his own money. That eclipses Fox's $312,000 and Olszewski's $142,000, which includes $100,000 of his own money.