HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama Republican Party planned to host a U.S. Senate candidate debate aired by News 19 and our sister stations across the state prior to the primary election. After several weeks of meetings, frontrunner candidates in the race for U.S. Senate refused the invitation.

The Alabama Republican Party first issued an invitation to Rep. Mo Brooks, Katie Britt, and Mike Durant, the three GOP frontrunners in the U.S. Senate race.

According to debate organizers, Brooks agreed in full to participate, and Britt said she would participate if Durant also took the stage.

News 19 spoke with Durant in Hoover on April 21 and asked him if he would be willing to debate.

“Yeah, we’re fine with debates. We’ve got a schedule laid out, but if we can fit it in, we’ll be glad to do it,” Durant told News 19.

In a statement made on Thursday, the Durant campaign said he pulled out because Britt did not want to debate. However, debate organizers said Britt’s campaign never withdrew; instead, Durant outright declined the invitation to debate.

Britt’s campaign told News 19 in a statement, “Mike Durant not only is afraid to debate Katie Britt, but now he’s also lying about it. We accepted three separate dates for the Alabama Republican Party/Nexstar debate and were looking forward to Katie showing on stage that she’s the best candidate… Durant, however, declined to accept a single date for a debate.”

Brooks told News 19 that candidates have to make public appearances to share their message with voters.

“That’s important where you can speak off the cuff about your belief system as opposed to putting on TV or on the radio or in social media poll-tested sound bites that help a person get elected without any requirement that the person actually believe those things,” Brooks said.

News 19 political analyst Jay Town said debates are an important resource for voters, especially in a race without an incumbent.

“It’s good for voters to see all three of them, and it would be good for them to hear where those candidates stand on particular issues, so they can make an informed decision,” Town said.

According to Town, debates help voters have a better idea of who they are supporting.

“It usually aids the voter in deciding who they are going to vote for, or perhaps who they’re not going to vote for,” Town said. “I also think it aids the candidates in many instances where they can show that they do have legislative chops, that they have the ability to operate quickly on their feet, that they present well and that they’d be good ambassadors for the state of Alabama.”

News 19 also reached out to the top three candidates running for the U.S. House District 5 seat, Dale Strong, Paul Sanford, and Casey Wardynski, to offer a debate platform. U.S. House candidate Dale Strong turned down the offer.

Dale has participated in several forums organized by local Republican organizations with some or all candidates in this race. With 27 days remaining to campaign, we plan to focus our time meeting one on one with voters across north Alabama.

Colin Sudduth, Strong Campaign Manager

Strong’s opponent, Paul Sanford said he was disappointed to hear there would not be a debate.

When notified by WHNT that one of my opponents was unwilling to debate during this Primary, I was disappointed to say the least. In such an important election, and powerful seat, I think it should be required to participate in a public debate or forum. I have always found it to be incredibly important to share views, and a debate is a tremendous way to share our platforms. I will never shy away from an opportunity to share and talk with the people who I am seeking to represent. I encourage WHNT to move forward with the debate so that the people of Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District have the opportunity to listen to their congressional candidates and make up their minds on who to support. 

Paul Sanford, U.S. House Candidate

U.S. House candidate John Roberts, whose campaign has raised a total of $165,595, said he would have been willing to engage in a debate or forum with his opponents.

Alabama Republican Party chairman John Wahl said the party is supportive of the possibility of a future debate.

The Alabama Republican Party is very supportive of an open and fair debate process. We felt it was important that Republican candidates had a debate platform they could trust and that was not biased against Republicans.

We offered our U.S. Senate candidates the opportunity to join in a Republican Primary debate sponsored by the ALGOP. At this time it does not look like a Senate primary debate will be possible because of scheduling of the candidates.

We are hopeful that a debate may still be possible in the runoff. The Alabama Republican Party would like to make this opportunity possible for both our candidates and the people of Alabama.

John Wahl, Alabama Republican Party Chairman

The Alabama primary election will take place on May 24.