Debate drama: Republican Party chapter turns up heat for congressional debate

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The Hinds County Republican Party announced on Monday they will host a debate on Thursday between third congressional runoff candidates Michael Guest and Whit Hughes.

The only problem: Guest won’t be there. After the announcement on Monday, the Guest campaign doubled down on their insistence they wouldn’t debate Hughes before the June 26 runoff.

Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today

Michael Guest

“After already participating in 12 debates and forums with our opponent during this campaign, including three in Hinds County, Michael Guest will continue traveling throughout the entire third district to meet with voters directly to discuss the key issues affecting our country,” said Rob Pillow, Guest’s communications director.

“Obviously, our opponent is not going to dictate our schedule any more than we would attempt to dictate his schedule,” Pillow said.

Guest and Hughes earned the most votes of six total Republican candidates for the state’s third congressional seat on June 5, setting up a June 26 runoff between the two. Guest flirted with an outright win, earning 45 percent of the vote, while Hughes earned 22 percent of the vote.

Michael Guest, Whit Hughes poised to take the gloves off in House GOP runoff

The winner of the runoff  will face Rep. Michael Evans — who won the Democratic primary — in the race to fill the House seat left vacant by retiring Rep. Gregg Harper.

Several times since the June 5 primary, Hughes has publicly challenged Guest to at least two debates before the runoff. Guest’s campaign has emphatically said they would not debate.

Hughes, in turn, has used Guest’s refusal to debate as a main talking point on the campaign trail.

Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today

Whit Hughes

“For months, people have assumed this race would go to a runoff and there would be debates in the runoff,” Hughes said in a campaign email on Friday. “Now, my opponent, Michael Guest, has refused to debate me. … I respect Michael, but I also respect the voters and their desire to hear from us in a debate setting.”

The Hinds County GOP is one of the largest Republican Party county chapters in the state. Pete Perry, who is the chairman of the Hinds County GOP, is also a Hinds County campaign chairman for Hughes’ campaign.

Perry did not immediately return a call to Mississippi Today for comment on Monday.

“The Republican Party prides itself on being the party of ideas, we intend to showcase the ideas of these two candidates, both similarities and differences,” Perry said in the news release announcing the “debate.”

Amile Wilson, secretary for the Hinds County GOP, told Mississippi Today on Monday that invitations to the runoff debate had been sent to all six candidates in the race “about a month ago.” Wilson said five of the six candidates, excluding Guest, previously agreed to the debate.

“Michael Guest still has not confirmed he’ll attend,” Wilson told Mississippi Today on Monday afternoon. “Pete Perry and I will get together to figure that out (if he doesn’t attend). If we still don’t have a go-ahead from Guest, I’m not exactly sure what we’ll do on Thursday.”