When the 2018 race for Texas governor is done and dusted, the two major candidates in the election, Democrat and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and incumbent Republican Greg Abbott, likely will have debated at least once.
Both sides have already agreed to a debate, albeit not with each other, and all but one Texas governor's race since 1982 has featured some short of a showdown. Thursday, however, Valdez showed just how far away a debate deal is, demanding in a letter to the governor that, among other things, he agree to a debate on a night other than Friday.
"We both know that the conditions you are demanding are a slap in the face to the very people we are striving to serve," Valdez writes in her letter. "Why are you determined to shut Texans out? If you honestly want to represent all of Texas, which is your job, then work with us so that all Texans can participate in the conversation."
In July, Abbott agreed to debate Valdez in Austin on Sept. 28, a Friday. Valdez has not agreed to participate in that debate, set to be put on by Nexstar Media Group. Instead, the former sheriff has agreed to a debate proposed by Houston's ABC and Univision affiliates that would be held Oct. 8, a Monday.
In response to Valdez's letter, Abbott's campaign accused the former sheriff of ducking a debate with the governor.
"There has been no change in our plans to debate on September 28th. It is clear our opponent does not wish to debate. Any other questions should be directed to her campaign," Abbott's campaign said in a statement.
Texas gubernatorial races have a long history of debates being held on Friday nights and a long history of underdog candidates complaining about them. In 2006, the sole debate between incumbent Rick Perry and his three major challengers — Democrat Chris Bell, independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn and independent Kinky Friedman — took place on the Friday night before the Texas-OU game. Perry's predecessor, George W. Bush, debated his two opponents, Garry Mauro and Ann Richards, once each, both on Friday nights.
Mauro, according to the Texas Tribune, called Bush's agreeing to debate, but only on a Friday, "minimally acceptable behavior" and claimed Bush was seeking the smallest possible audience.
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While that may have been true in 1998, the year of Bush and Mauro's showdown, it doesn't really matter what night debates are held in 2018, according to Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor.
"People often make the Friday night football analogy, but the reality is you can put it on any night of the week and not that many more people are going to watch it," Jones says. "The people who are going to watch it are either going to DVR it or they're going to watch it online — they're going to watch it at some point regardless of when it's on. The people who aren't going to watch aren't going to magically watch it because it's on Tuesday night at 8 p.m."
If anything extraordinary happens during the debate, those not watching will catch it at some point over the weekend, Jones says.
According to the latest polling of Texas voters released by Quinnipiac University on Wednesday, Valdez trails Abbott by 13 points, 51-38.