Eldridge Campaign Points To UA Student Government As Debate-Invite Break In Chain

(file photo) Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Conner Eldridge filing paperwork to run for office inside the state Capitol building.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Conner Eldridge's campaign is pointing to the University of Arkansas Associated Student Government for a lapse in ensuring the Republican incumbent received a debate invitation. The student group says Eldridge's team had told them it sent out an invite as well.

The first debate of the U.S. Senate race takes place Friday afternoon at 3:30 at the University of Arkansas. It's being hosted by the UA Law School's Young Democrats. It will not feature Republican incumbent John Boozman. Libertarian Frank Gilbert will be debating.

Earlier this week the Boozman campaign faulted Democrat Conner Eldridge for not sending a debate invitation. Although the result of not debating would have been the same. Boozman's campaign has repeatedly said one debate televised statewide on AETN is sufficient.

"Senator Boozman has been on the record since March that he will do the one, televised Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) debate. This debate will be on October 12 and air on AETN across the state for everyone to see. Unlike our opponent, Senator Boozman has a job: representing the people of Arkansas and fighting against the overreaching, job-killing agenda of our opponent's former boss, President Obama. Since January of 2011, Senator Boozman has made 726 unique visits to the 75 counties of Arkansas. As always, the Senator has been tirelessly traveling the state speaking directly with and listening to the voters about their concerns and needs."

In a statement to KUAR on Wednesday, Eldridge continued to publicly challenge Sen. Boozman to debate him.

"It seems that Senator Boozman hasn't personally received some of the numerous invitations to debate. Perhaps he's been on travel or not followed his social media accounts. Senator, please read this: I will debate you anytime anywhere. We have the debate truck at the ready. The people of Arkansas deserve a Senator who will show up in their communities (not just at election time), lead on the issues, and be willing to debate matters important to Arkansas and America. The Senate plans to be out of session on Friday, so I'm assuming you will be in Arkansas. Please meet Frank Gilbert and me at the Student Union at the University of Arkansas at 3:30 p.m. on Friday for a debate and town hall. If you are unavailable at that time please tell us when and where to meet you. Please take the time to respond personally to the voters of Arkansas and to me on this matter so that we know you've been made aware."

The Eldridge campaign says the reason Boozman didn't receive a direct invite to the UA debate, like Gilbert's campaign did, is because UA Associated Student Government President R. Connor Flocks had twice confirmed that the student organization had reached out to Boozman's campaign.

An e-mail from UA Student Government President Connor Flux saying the organization reached out to the Boozman campaign to debate.
Credit R. Connor Flocks

"As I stated over the phone, the Associated Student Government reached out to the Boozman campaign back on Sept 6th to see if they had interest in attending this debate and did not hear back. Since this debate was not organized by all campaigns/ all parties will not be attending, we will not be able to help coordinate a debate at the University of Arkansas."

Several hours later Flocks e-mailed the Eldridge campaign again, to say he was incorrect in stating an effort had been made to contact the Boozman campaign.

A second e-mail from ASG President Connor Flux stating it was inaccurate to say the organization had tried to contact Sen. Boozman to debate.
Credit Connor Flocks

"As for a follow up, the below information I gave to you today is incorrect. I apologize for the miscommunication on or end:

ASG did not speak with members of the campaign on the 6th- I misunderstood. Our team came to a consensus on the 6th that previous conversations with campaign members indicated that they were not interested, and that (in addition to logistical issues with timing) was the reason for our unwillingness to help coordinate your request.

No formal invitation was sent to either campaign from the ASG. Only vague communication. Again, I sincerely apologize for the confusion."

Continuing down the rabbit hole, an e-mail from ASG's Director of External Relations J. Davis Trice stated the organization didn't contact Boozman because the Eldridge campaign told ASG it already had and would again.

UA SGA Dir. of External Communication Davis Trice stating the Eldridge campaign previously told ASG they had and would again contact Boozman about the debate.
Credit Conner Eldridge's campaign.

"...an email you sent to our student body president, Connor Flocks, on September 2,, 2016 at 1:07 p.m. In the email, you stated, "We have already and will again issue an invitation to incumbent Sen. John Boozman, though he has declined all past efforts to engage in a debate." After seeing this I advised Connor Flocks not to go go forward with planning a debate, as we would probably not have participation from all candidates for senate. I never communicated with the Boozman for Arkansas campaign regarding a debate on the University of Arkansas campus."

The ASG withdrew its support and the UA Law Young Democrats picked up the sponsorship.

As a result of the snafu one debate moderator, Doug Thompson from the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, withdrew from the debate. A former editor at KFSM-TV in Fort Smith/Fayetteville Larry Henry, who was once found in contempt of court, will moderate along with current KFSM anchor/reporter Dillon Thomas.

This afternoon the debate over the debate invite will subside and the candidates, at least Gilbert and Eldridge, will attempt to articulate their ideas for the U.S. Senate in a public exchange.

UPDATE: The Eldridge campaign says it "misspoke" saying the UA Law Young Dems were sponsors. Spokesman Graham Senor, "The debate is not being hosted by the U of A Law Young Dems. It is being held at the U of A by agreement of the candidates with no host."