Debate cancelled between 3rd Congressional District candidates

(Photo: Owen Haughton, Chairman of the College Republicans of Thomas Nelson Community College)
(Photo: Owen Haughton, Chairman of the College Republicans of Thomas Nelson Community College)

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A debate between 3rd Congressional District candidates set for Tuesday night at Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) has been cancelled. The event would have included incumbent Democrat Representative Bobby Scott and Republican challenger Marty Williams.

The cancellation follows a mix-up created when one of the student organizers, Owen Haughton, inadvertently sent both campaigns the list of questions three days before the actual debate.

Haughton released a statement Wednesday, in which he apologized for the mix up.

Williams decided to withdraw after learning that the Hampton NAACP was involved as a debate sponsor, saying the chapter’s president Gaylene Kanoyton is a state Democratic party official.

“I believe it’s now been tainted,” Williams said Tuesday afternoon. “I feel extremely sorry for the students, but this debate would no longer be non-partisan and non-biased.”

Scott says Williams is ducking him, even though they have already debated five times. “He doesn’t want to debate me. If there’s a debate, I’m showing up.”

Here is Kanoyton’s full statement to WAVY about the matter:

The Hampton Branch NAACP was excited to partner with the Thomas Nelson Community College Republicans and the Christopher Newport University Democrats to host a debate between incumbent Congressman Bobby Scott and his Republican challenger Marty Williams of Chesapeake.

This weekend, the Hampton branch NAACP learned that a member of the Thomas Nelson Community College Republicans accidentally sent the Marty Williams campaign the prepared debate questions. The Hampton NAACP was not immediately notified about this breach nor were we consulted in the development of the questions, contrary to our understanding of our role in this debate with the two campaigns and the other debate sponsors.

Our debate moderator presented a reasonable solution to this problem and she provided the leaked questions to the Bobby Scott for Congress campaign. It was suggested that the questions simply be redrafted by the moderator  to ensure a fair and candid conversation between the candidates. The Scott campaign agreed and other sponsors agreed to this solution as well. The Williams campaign, however, did not and is now attacking the integrity of this non-partisan civil rights organization. It is unfortunate that the voters of Virginia’s third congressional district will not have another opportunity to listen to the Democratic and Republican nominees for Congress debate the issues important to our community.”

Moderator Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University also withdrew and provided 10 On Your Side with this statement:

The students were unaware of the proper protocol for setting up a professional debate and made some critical errors including failing to notify the Marty Williams campaign of the NAACP’s sponsorship in advance of his agreement to participate. These mistakes led to the need for me to withdraw my participation as the debate moderator.The students have learned from this experience and regret that the event had to be cancelled.”

Stay with WAVY for additional developments in this story.