Will Gov. Gary Herbert and challenger Jonathan Johnson debate before the June 28 primary election? That question can be answered with a definite "maybe."
UtahPolicy.com has learned that KSL TV and radio, along with the Deseret News, are pushing hardest to stage a matchup with the two men sometime in the next week. However, they have set a deadline of the end of the day on Thursday for the campaigns to accept. It is likely that deadline may pass without any action.
Johnson's campaign proposed half-dozen public debates around the state following the state convention where he defeated Herbert 55-45%. Now, in the waning days of the campaign, he'll be lucky if he gets one more face off.
The only face-to-face debate between the two men was before the May GOP convention. After that, the two have had a number of joint appearances, but not a full-fledged debate. The highest-profile matchup since the convention was a three-way event featuring Johnson, Herbert and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Weinholtz.
Herbert campaign spokesperson Marty Carpenter says they are open to another debate with Johnson, as long as their schedule permits.
"We need to determine what the best use of our limited time is," says Carpenter, who noted the Governor spent a significant amount of time campaigning in rural Utah this week. "We hope to make a decision on further debates either Friday or Saturday."
Johnson's campaign is clearly frustrated by Herbert's apparent unwillingness to debate.
"They are absolutely ducking us," says Dave Hansen, Johnson's campaign manager. "They're doing everything they can to avoid debating us without saying no."
There's no incentive for Herbert to agree to debate. Two independent polls give him a massive lead on Johnson among Republican voters. Why would Herbert risk committing a high-profile gaffe, or give Johnson an opportunity to tee off on him during a debate? There are high risk and little reward for the incumbent in this case. Exactly for the same reasons, Johnson is itching for a face-to-face showdown.
Johnson has repeatedly slammed Herbert for his fundraising. It has been widely documented the governor was caught on tape referring to himself as "Available Jones," meaning he would meet with donors anyplace, anytime. Herbert has fired back at Johnson for taking nearly $1 million in donations from Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne who is Johnson's employer.