Two candidates running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate are taking umbrage that they won’t be included in an upcoming televised debate.
The candidates, Peter Peckarsky and Dr. Darrell Williams, had planned yesterday to hold a rally outside the Milwaukee studios of TMJ4, the NBC affiliate hosting the televised debate this Sunday.
The rally, which in the end did not take place, was to protest what they described as “voter suppression” in their exclusion from the station’s upcoming debate with other candidates for the nomination.
Dr. Williams, who previously was the State Administrator of the Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency, says that he – unlike other candidates – did not receive an invitation from TMJ4 to join the debate.
“They had sent this information out to four other candidates in May, but had not sent it to the four candidates in question until I asked for it,” Dr. Williams described. “I said, ‘Can you all send me the information, because I want to see the email?’ So they sent it to me later on that day, June 21st. And I said, ‘Well, when is the deadline for this?’ And they said June 30th.”
The June 30 deadline was to meet any one of the qualification criteria for the debate. To qualify, candidates were required to have at least 5% support in the most recent Marquette Law School polling or in any poll approved by FiveThirtyEight, or an average of 5% from the two Marquette polls prior to that, or at least five thousand individual donations to the campaign.
Both Peckarsky and Williams are registered candidates and will appear on the primary ballot in August. A third candidate, Kou (COO) Lee, will also appear on the primary ballot this August but will not appear in the debate on Sunday.
Peter Peckarsky raised about $32,500 in an eight-month period ending in March, according to the latest filings from the Federal Elections Commission. He told W-O-R-T in a call today that he especially took issue with TMJ4’s donation criterion.
Dr. Williams raised about $25,300 in the same eight-month period ending in March, according to the same latest filings from the Federal Elections Commission.
He says TMJ4 shouldn’t have a different set of requirements for the debate than what the state requires to appear on the ballot.
“My thought was, we’ve done everything that we need to do to get on the ballot,” said Dr. Williams. “I don’t understand why a news station would circumvent the criteria of the state and then exclude what were then four candidates from being a part of the televised debate in the most widely anticipated election within Wisconsin’s history.”
Tim Vetscher, News Director at TMJ4, told WORT in a statement that, “TMJ4 News does not include or exclude candidates from the debate. We set the standards for inclusion in the debate and the candidates themselves qualify. The Federal Communications Commission simply asks stations such as TMJ4 set reasonable criteria for determining who qualifies for inclusion in a televised debate. We believe we’ve done that in this instance.”
Dr. Williams says that debates like this one can be an opportunity for undecided voters to learn about the candidates.
“Months ago, 48% of the people from the same Marquette poll said that they were unsure and uncomfortable with the people who they’re trying to highlight in platform, and that they wanted to hear the voices of all the candidates on the ballot. So now, most recently you had 36%. Still, 36% of the people in Wisconsin say that they want to hear from these candidates via the televised debate and make an informed decision because they don’t know who they want to vote for. And this very opportunity is being denied to them.”
In the Marquette Law School polls in February, April, and June, the “don’t know” option received a greater percentage of votes than the highest-polling candidate, which in all three instances was Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.
The debate takes place on Sunday, July 17 at 6pm. It will be broadcast live on TMJ4 and on their website.
Image courtesy: Element5 Digital / UNSPLASH