Wolf says 'no' to all but 1 debate in governor's race

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is agreeing to participate in just one debate before the Nov. 6 election with his Republican rival Scott Wagner, an event to be moderated by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.

Wolf's campaign said this week that will be his only debate, and gave no explanation as to why. That prompted Wagner's campaign to accuse Wolf of being "afraid to defend himself in front of Pennsylvanians."

In the 2014 campaign, then-Republican Gov. Tom Corbett participated in three debates with Wolf. In their last appearance, Wolf thanked Corbett for participating and called it "a great democratic exercise."

Wagner's campaign said Thursday that he has accepted more than a dozen general election debate invitations from TV stations across Pennsylvania, newspapers, a radio station, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and local chambers of commerce.

Wolf is seeking a second four-year term in office and has led Wagner in fundraising and independent polls.

Terry Madonna, a pollster and public affairs professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, said Wolf appears to be following a standard campaign playbook for an incumbent who is leading in the polls, boosted by Democratic voter enthusiasm in the mid-term election. That means protecting himself by avoiding any sort of unpredictable situation that could give Wagner a boost.

"The more he exposes himself to those types of settings, the more it potentially helps Wagner," Madonna said Thursday. "That's a classic incumbent protection strategy that reduces the potential that you make a mistake or you end up in a debate situation that's not favorable."

In the 2010 campaign, Corbett and Democratic nominee Dan Onorato appeared together three times as they pursued the open governor's office, as did then-Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and Republican challenger Lynn Swann in the 2006 campaign, even though Rendell handily led Swann in fundraising and polls on his way to victory.

The 45-minute debate to be moderated by Trebek is Oct. 1 at the annual Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry dinner in Hershey.

A chamber spokeswoman, Tricia Harris, said she could not give details Thursday about the event format. The chamber has received inquiries from TV stations wanting to provide coverage of the debate and it is working to make that available, Harris said.

Also running is Libertarian Party nominee Ken Krawchuk and Green Party nominee Paul Glover, although they were not invited to the chamber's debate.

During the three-way Republican primary campaign, Wagner participated in a dozen forums or debates with other candidates, Wagner's campaign said, and suggested Wolf is a hypocrite since Wolf's campaign had earlier highlighted criticism of Wagner for failing to attend several primary debates.

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