HELENA — The first scheduled debate among Montana’s 2020 Republican gubernatorial candidates will be in Helena in two weeks – although one of the candidates, Greg Gianforte, won’t be there.
Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell said they’ll be at the Nov. 26 debate on the Carroll College campus, sponsored by the Lewis and Clark County Republican Central Committee.
Gianforte, however, said he had previous commitments to spend Thanksgiving with family members and couldn’t make it.
His campaign also chastised Fox for scheduling the debate two days before Thanksgiving, knowing that Gianforte couldn’t attend.
“Tim Fox still worked to schedule a debate during that time, so that (he) could avoid appearing alongside the clear front-runner,” said Gianforte campaign manager Jake Eaton. “Desperate campaigns do desperate things when they realize they are losing.”
Gianforte is Montana’s sole representative in the U.S. House. He said he looks forward to taking part in a debate scheduled January in Billings, where all candidates will be able to attend.
The Fox campaign told MTN News Monday that Gianforte's campaign has been "dragging their feet" for weeks on nailing down dates, and that it and Olszewski gave Gianforte plenty of time to select dates that would work.
"Congressman Gianforte's response was to kick the can down the road," the campaign said.
Gianforte, Fox and Olszewski are vying for the GOP nomination to compete for Montana’s open governor’s seat in 2020.
Four Democrats also are in the race.
The Nov. 26 debate at the Lower Carroll College Campus Center will begin at 6 p.m., moderated by Webb Brown, the former president of the Montana Chamber of Commerce. It will focus on the Montana economy.
“I am looking forward to the upcoming debate and having the opportunity to share my vision for Montana’s economic future,” Olszewski said in a statement. “I know Tim Fox and I will have a spirited debate and the people of Montana will have an opportunity to make a more informed choice for the Republican nominee for governor.”
“The ability to debate issues, ideas and opportunities important to Montanans is fundamentally one of the most important skills needed for our next governor,” Fox said. “Being able to debate fellow candidates with statesmanship and civility is a reflection of the leadership they will exemplify if elected.”