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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gilbert rebuffs Blubaugh debate request; B1

Democrat calling on GOP candidate to appear once before Election Day

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WOODSTOCK — The debate over debate in the gubernatorial race is over, but now there’s a similar dispute brewing in the 15th District House of Delegates contest.

Only smaller. And much more polite.

Democratic candidate Jim Blubaugh, a retired federal employee seeking to succeed retiring Del. Allen Louderback, R-Luray, is calling on his Republican opponent to appear with him at least once before Election Day.

But the campaign of Republican Todd Gilbert says it’s too late for Blubaugh to be asking for a debate now.

“We owe it to the voters and I am disappointed Todd doesn’t think it worth his time. Anyone running for this seat should never be ‘too busy’ to speak directly to the voters,” Blubaugh says in a written statement. “The people of the 15th district deserve better than this.”

Gilbert’s decision to leave his job as assistant Shenandoah County commonwealth’s attorney at the first of the month should have given him plenty of time to appear, the Democratic candidate said.

Blubaugh said Wednesday that WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg had offered the two candidates a half-hour, live forum, where the two would talk about issues and have a chance to engage each other.

His campaign made as many as 16 different dates available to the GOP campaign, but was turned down.

It’s a little late in the game to be talking about debates, said Wade Zirkle, Gilbert’s campaign manager.

“Mr. Blubaugh has had all summer to challenge us to a debate, and we would have been happy to discuss the difference between us,” he said. “The problem is, the time for debating came and went.”

“Now is the time to take the message to the voters,” he said.

It would have been nice to have been invited to a debate, too, Zirkle added.

Blublaugh “has never challenged us to a debate,” he said. “For him to play games with 20 days left is laughable.”

Any debate wouldn’t be a reflection of the knock-down, drag-out contests between Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine and Republican former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the Democratic candidate said.

“I think it’s more of a matter of the voters seeing what positions that we’re both taking,” he said. “A lot of people don’t pay a lot of attention to the race until late in the cycle, and then they start to look at the issues. I thought the TV [debate] would be [a] particularly good [chance to inform voters], because they could watch it at home.”

Gilbert and Blubaugh were expected to appear on the same stage Wednesday night in Luray at a Page County candidates forum, Zirkle said. But that’s not the kind of one-on-one forum voters need, Blubaugh argued.

“It is obviously amateur hour there in the Blubaugh camp, and they’re clearly getting desperate,” Zirkle said.

The fact that Zirkle’s last statement was one of the more harsh issued in the race to date speaks to the nature of the campaign.

Even with the dispute over debates, the campaign in the 15th District has been remarkably civil compared to some contested races across the state.

“Todd and I have kept it a real clean campaign,” Blubaugh said. “My hat’s off to Todd for that.”

“It has been a very civil race, to both candidates’ credit,” added Zirkle.