HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Gov. Kay Ivey was invited to another candidate debate this week hosted by the Huntsville Tea Party.
She didn't attend, but three men challenging her in the race tried to stick to the issues instead of the rumors circulating about her sexual orientation.
On Thursday evening, three men seeking the Republican nomination for governor were once again in Huntsville.
"This is the 16th forum we've had. The 16th debate, and the 16th one Gov. Ivey has not shown up for," Mayor Tommy Battle said.
Bill Hightower, Mayor Battle, and Scott Dawson accepted the invite, and a chance to greet voters less than three weeks before the upcoming primary.
"If you like your mayor, I'm trying to do everything I can to keep him here for you," Dawson said.
The debate happened two days after a post online from a former lawmaker suggested Governor Ivey was a lesbian. That was written after Dawson criticized ADECA funding for programs like Huntsville's Free2Be, which is now closed pending an audit.
"That's what we've done for the city of Huntsville is try to be open and transparent, and that's what we'd like to do in Montgomery," Battle said.
"I think it got us off message a little bit and tragically," Dawson said.
"What I've tried to do is focus on the core issue. And this is not a core issue," Hightower said.
As to the debate, candidates were asked about a range of issues, including building roads, overcrowding jails, and sheriffs pocketing jail food money.
"That money was not sent there for the sheriff to take it home," Mayor Battle said.
"Is it legal? Yes, the law doesn't say you can't do it. Is it right? No, it isn't," Hightower said.
"It's time to get rid of common core and bring back common sense," Dawson said.
Just under three weeks for voters to make up their minds.
Huntsville Tea Party leaders say there were 108 people who cast a straw poll vote on Thursday evening. Mayor Battle was the winner with 53 votes, followed by Dawson with 30 and Hightower with 21.