The debate about debates: Hood, Reeves clash over where and when

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood face each other in the Nov. 5 general election for governor.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tate Reeves has agreed to two debates while Democrat Jim Hood has accepted three debate invitations.

The only problem is that with the exception of the Oct. 10 debate at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg the two candidates are not agreeing to the same debates.

On Sept. 11, Reeves announced he had accepted an invitation to the debate in Hattiesburg and another on Sept. 25 in Jackson. Both debates would be on WJTV in Jackson and on other television stations in the state owned by WJTV parent company, the Nexstar Media Group.

This week Hood announced he would accept the Hattiesburg debate, which would be conducted in front of an audience. In addition, he was accepting an Oct. 17 debate in the studio of WTVA in Tupelo and an Oct. 29 debate with WLBT in Jackson.

The debate tiff is the latest flare-up between Reeves, the two-term lieutenant governor, and Hood, the four-term attorney general, as they vie to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

Before Hood accepted the three debates, the Reeves campaign accused Hood of “ducking” the debates – even to the extent of sending out a person dressed as a duck during the annual Hamer-Winter state Democratic Party dinner this past weekend.

Hood pointed out that he did not understand the point Reeves was trying to make since the Democratic attorney general announced in August he wanted three gubernatorial debates in different regions of the state.

But Hood said he sent out a letter giving media companies time to make debate proposals and he was adhering to that schedule.

Now the Reeves campaign is saying Hood is “ducking” early debates. The Reeves campaign said since Hood said he would debate “anytime anywhere” he should agree to the Sept. 25 debate.

“We’ve let them know that we want to debate sooner than later, and there is no need to wait just because Hood is not ready” said Reeves spokesperson Parker Briden. “Let’s do these ASAP.” Briden said Hood was trying to wait as late as possible before the Nov. 5 election to prevent the media from having time to followup on any gaffes.

Briden said the Reeves campaign was in discussions with WLBT and WTVA about their debate proposals, which Hood already had accepted.

On social media, responding to the Reeves campaign, the Hood campaign said, “Will Tate Reeves agree to three debates?  Or is he making excuses to hide the fact that he has no ideas to debate? As a reminder, this election is about fixing our roads and bridges, funding education, and expanding access to healthcare. Tate Reeves is focused on…ducks.”

The Oct 10 debate, at Southern Mississippi, will continue the tradition of gubernatorial debates before live audiences. Audiences were not allowed for two debates, sponsored by WJTV, in the Republican primary, and last year in the Senate special election Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith insisted her debate with Democrat Mike Espy be on a closed set with just the candidates, moderator and three journalists selected to ask questions.