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Debate canceled after candidates decline invitations

The North Dakota Newspaper Association debate has been canceled after two of the three invited candidates declined to participate, the association's executive director said Thursday.

The North Dakota Newspaper Association debate has been canceled after two of the three invited candidates declined to participate, the association's executive director said Thursday.

Organizers had invited this year's U.S. House of Representatives candidates, incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy and Republican challengers Rick Berg and J.D. Donaghe. The event was scheduled to be held April 30 in Fargo.

Berg had accepted the offer, but campaign manager Tom Nelson said that was based on Pomeroy also accepting. Pomeroy declined to participate Wednesday.

Nelson said it would be "fantastic" if Pomeroy decided to attend, and Berg would still like to do the debate if that happened.

"We'll be there if Earl's there," Nelson said. "He's the incumbent; that's who we're running against. It doesn't make any sense to do it without him there."

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'Cowardly'

Donaghe, who accepted the debate invitation Thursday before it was canceled, said Berg's decision to not participate without Pomeroy is "just cowardly." He said withdrawing from the debate was hypocritical, especially considering his remarks on Fargo radio station The Flag 1100 AM on Thursday morning.

Berg told the station that it's important to have debates now to give voters time to think about the issues and decide whose plan they support.

"I want to do things that we did in North Dakota for our country, and I think it's critical that we have debates, that we talk about it," Berg said.

"He was all over about Pomeroy backing out and not coming to debate him," Donaghe said. "Now, he's going to back out from the debate and force the NDNA to not have what is basically a tradition in their conventions that they invite candidates to debate."

Donaghe said Berg might have the Republican Party's endorsement -- delegates voted to endorse him last month at the state convention -- but they're both on the ballot for the June 8 primary, meaning there's not yet an officially nominated Republican candidate.

Spokesman Brenden Timpe said Pomeroy is "very interested" in doing the debate, but there's still more than six months to go until the election.

"He's never done a debate before Labor Day," Timpe said. "It's pretty early, and I think people get a little tired of campaigns dragging on and on."

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Roger Bailey, NDNA's executive director for 10 years who has been in the newspaper business since 1973, said he was surprised by the turn of events. He said the association has held many debates during its annual convention, which is always held at about the same time each year.

"We've never had a candidate turn us down for the reason that Pomeroy turned us down, that it's too early in the campaign," Bailey said. "The candidates have always been eager to accept our invitation."

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: RICK BERG
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