RALEIGH, N.C. — In North Carolina's race for governor, there is a debate over debates. So far, the contenders are only scheduled to appear together at an education forum on cable TV.
Voters have watched the candidates campaign and heard their commercials, but, so far, they have not gotten the chance to see Gov. Mike Easley and Patrick Ballantine go head-to-head, unscripted.
"We're concerned. We would be very disappointed if we weren't able to have a gubernatorial debate," said Ardie Gregory, president of the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters.
Gregory says her organization offered a statewide forum, but so far, only the challenger accepted.
"We're really waiting to hear from the governor to find out if we'll have a Ballantine/Easley debate," she said.
"He's just not apparently comfortable with just getting up there and talking about the issues with Patrick Ballantine," said Bob Rosser, of the Ballantine campaign.
"That's just silliness," Easley campaign chief Jay Reiff said. "In fact, this whole debate on debate is just silliness. The governor's association has made it very clear from day one that he is more than willing to stand up and debate Patrick Ballantine."
Reiff blames debate format as the primary holdup with broadcasters.
"Short-timed ping-pong matches usually digress into candidates just trading one-liners back and forth," he said.
Republican political strategist Marc Rotterman says incumbents are typically cautious when it comes to debates.
"If they think they're ahead, they don't want to debate," Rotterman said. "They're going to try to control the agenda, kind of control the format as much as they can and they are in the driver's seat."
As the governor's race reaches the homestretch, it is still unclear how many times voters will get to see how the candidates perform on their feet.
The Easley campaign expects the governor will appear at two or three forums with Ballantine.
North Carolina Association of Broadcasters president Ardie Gregory is th general manager of WRAL-FM Mix 101.5, a sister station of WRAL-TV.