We welcome news that the Rio Grande Valley was chosen for one of the public forums involving the two major candidates for the U.S. Senate seat from Texas on this year’s ballot. CNN announced last week that it had scheduled a town hall event between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke on Thursday at the McAllen Performing Arts Center. CNN’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash will moderate the event.
The two candidates agreed to three debates, and the McAllen event was added after one slated for Houston was canceled so that Cruz could stay in Washington during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
Many of the most critical issues being addressed in this Senate campaign — immigration, the border wall and cross-border trade to name just a few — affect this region directly, so holding a forum on the border is highly appropriate.
However, the event may not include all the candidates, as the network announced that Cruz backed out of the event. The Cruz campaign then issued a statement to CNN on Sunday evening, indicating that he is “ready to be in McAllen,” but wants the format changed to a debate.
These circumstances will prove unfortunate if O’Rourke remains the only participant to attend, since it would have provided the Valley and voters across the state an opportunity to see these candidates address border residents directly about the issues that are of major concern to this region.
Both candidates have been to the Valley and their campaigns say both will be back before Election Day. But staged campaign rallies aren’t the same as public forums during which the candidates might be asked to answer direct questions from voters — questions they might have avoided thus far. In addition, having only one candidate obviously makes it a one-sided affair.
In fact, the third candidate on the ballot, Libertarian Party candidate Neal Dikeman, a Houston financier, makes that very argument in a complaint he filed Monday with the Federal Elections Commission. He alleges that with only one of the three candidates participating in the forum, the event essentially will be an hour-long promotional program for O’Rourke. The value of CNN’s air time should be considered a campaign contribution to O’Rourke, Dikeman alleges, saying it’s worth around $10 million.
Networks usually don’t invite third-party candidates on the grounds that they have little chance of being elected and thus don’t merit the attention. But with Cruz backing out, the network could consider giving the Libertarian the chance to reach out to voters who currently might not know that a third option even exists.
We hope the town hall still takes place, and that Cruz participates. That would be preferable, since he is the current senator and some might see this election as a direct referendum on his performance so far.