Campaign updates: To debate, or not to debate?

The Republican U.S. Senate primary campaign of Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, advised reporters today that one of his rivals, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, “is trying to shut down a proposed candidate debate at the California Republican Party spring convention” while declining another debate invitation from Brandman University (although Fiorina did apparently accept an invitation from ABC News and the League of Women Voters for a primary debate on May 6 in Los Angeles).

Chuck DeVore“We’re assiduous about not making allegations we can’t source,” DeVore spokesman Joshua Trevino told me this evening – most of the time. “I can’t share how we know the Fiorina people are aggressively trying to quash the CRP debate, I can only assure you it is so.”

Well, a lot of California Republican Party insiders certainly seem to want the candidates to debate. FlashReport publisher and CRP Vice Chairman Jon Fleischman told me this evening that in his contacts with various campaigns and GOP insiders, “I have not sensed that Fiorina is not willing to debate, but I sensed a reticence on the part of her campaign to relinquish her keynote position at the convention luncheon in order to debate.”

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said as of now, no debate is scheduled.

“If all of the candidates for Senate or governor came to me and said ‘we want to do a debate at the convention,’ then we would put one on, but absent that, I’ve got to hold a convention,” he said this evening. “At the end of the day, the show must go on.”

Carly FiorinaFiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund got back to me shortly after both the above conversations to note that Nehring had invited Fiorina to keynote the lunch back in December, and she had promptly accepted. “Carly looks forward to her speech and to a full compliment of convention activities over the weekend,” Soderlund said. “We have received no invitation to a debate at the convention.”

Of course, Nehring’s invitation for Fiorina to keynote happened before Tom Campbell switched from the GOP gubernatorial primary to this race, shaking up the contest’s dynamics considerably. And Campbell spokesman Jamie Fisfis told me tonight that “we are always open to debates. We have a zillion invites and this would be an important one.”

(UPDATE @ 8:06 P.M.: This just in from California Republican Party Chief Operating Officer Brent Lowder:
“A series of discussions on convention debates were held at the staff level with statewide campaigns in recent months; however, no formal invitations were extended. After recent internal discussion, the CRP has decided not to make any changes to the 2010 Spring Convention agenda involving debates.
“We look forward to an exciting convention that will showcase all of our major candidates and will be the staging ground for a united and energized California Republican Party to achieve important victories in the upcoming general election campaign.”)

(UPDATE @ 2:14 P.M. THURSDAY: Yet more from Lowder, just now: “Based on some confusion arising from my statement yesterday on potential convention debates, I would like to clarify the exact position of the California Republican Party. We are currently moving forward with a convention that has no planned debates in the GOP primaries for Governor or United States Senate because our discussions with the campaigns did not indicate that all candidates would participate. If we were to hear from all of the major candidates in either of those primaries that they would like the CRP to facilitate a debate at the convention, we would be pleased to do so.”)

Meanwhile, incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced she’ll file her candidacy documents in person Thursday at the Riverside County Registar of Voters – she has a home in Rancho Mirage – before lunching with supporters in Riverside. She owns a condo up here in Oakland, too, but making a media event out of filing in a red county seems to have more of a centrist “je ne sais quoi,” no?

Today’s minor happenings in the gubernatorial and state Attorney General races, after the jump…

Democratic Attorney General candidate Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, is in the Bay Area this evening for a get-together at the home of San Mateo City Councilman and Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Lim. Meanwhile, former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly today was touting a crime-prevention platform that involves reducing school dropout and truancy rates; using technology and better coordination to improve anti-gang efforts; creating or expanding after-school violence-prevention programs, mentorship programs and teen employment programs; connecting in-prison and community-based rehabilitation efforts; cracking down on methamphetamine use; and more.

On the GOP side of the AG race, state Sen. Tom Harman today was knocking one of his rivals, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, for having spoken at a luncheon sponsored by the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic, which supports reform of the state’s Three Strikes sentencing law. “Cooley announces that he is running as a Republican for Attorney General and one of the first things he does is speak to a prominent anti-Three Strikes group,” said Harman strategist Tim Rosales. “Not only do we have a major policy disagreement with him on this issue, but his coziness with this criminal defense group clearly demonstrates Steve Cooley’s absolute commitment to weakening Three Strikes.” I reached out to Cooley’s campaign for a rebuttal, but have heard no reply yet.

In the governor’s race, former Assembly Republican Leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, withdrew his endorsement of Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and gave it instead to former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. “This election will determine whether California survives and ultimately thrives during these perilous financial times. Now is the time for our party to get behind Meg Whitman. Her experience creating jobs, running large organizations and managing complex budgets will make her a successful governor. She is someone who knows how to both champion and achieve big reforms.” Blakeslee said in Whitman’s release. “As the former Assembly Republican Leader, I understand the importance of a unified team if we are going to win. A bloody primary battle is not in the best interest of our party. Meg is best positioned to solve the state’s problems and win in a competitive election against Jerry Brown.”

The California Republican Party has started a “Where’s Jerry? Watch” to underscore that Attorney General Jerry Brown’s nascent bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is still an exploratory committee, as he has not yet formally declared candidacy. But everyone knows he was basically just waiting to make sure U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wouldn’t throw her hat into the ring; now that she has definitively said she won’t, I’m betting Brown will formally become a candidate any day now.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.