Rokita to skip televised GOP Senate debate

The Indiana Debate Commission announced Friday that it has organized a debate for the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, but one candidate has declined to participate.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer and former state Rep. Mike Braun have agreed to take part in the April 30 event that will be televised statewide, but U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita won’t be attending.

It’s the first time in the commission’s 10-year history that a candidate has declined to participate in one of its debates. Since the 2008 election season, the commission has conducted 18 statewide, televised debates.

“We are very pleased that two candidates have agreed to this debate, but we are equally disappointed that one has opted to decline,” Indiana Debate Commission President Gerry Lanosga said in a written statement. “A contested primary should be heavily vetted by Hoosier voters and not by partisans, party officials or special interest groups. A neutral option, such as one offered by the Indiana Debate Commission, makes the most sense.”

According to the commission, Rokita’s campaign manager Bryan Reed said the congressman had scheduling conflicts and that he would only participate in primary debates “organized and moderated by conservative Republicans.”

Conservative group Americans For Prosperity organized the first debate for the GOP Senate race, which occurred on Feb. 20. All three GOP hopefuls participated in that event at Emmis Communications Corp.'s headquarters on Monument Circle.

The upcoming hour-long debate is scheduled to be at 7 p.m. in a WFYI-TV Channel 20 studio. The commission said the debate will be made available to TV stations and other news outlets.

The moderator will be Indiana politics blogger, radio host and attorney Abdul Hakim-Shabazz. Conservative radio host Tony Katz moderated the first debate.

Braun, Messer and Rokita will face off in the primary May 8 to determine who will take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in November. The commission will also organize debates during the general election campaign season.

Rokita later said in a press release he planned to participate in the Allen County GOP Senate debate April 23 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center in Fort Wayne, hosted by conservative WOWO radio host Pat Miller. That debate—which Braun and Messer also will attend—is set to be televised in the Fort Wayne market. A Rokita campaign spokesman said "they are working on" making the broadcast statewide.

"The Rokita campaign believes debates in the Republican Primary should be hosted by conservative and Republican organizations which get into the issues Republicans care about, not leftist propaganda and gotcha questions from liberal media figures, liberal college professors, or other parties interested in attacking Republicans and re-electing Joe Donnelly," the press release says.

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