Four-party debate too much for Fisher

Friday, September 25, 1998


The candidates for Ohio governor got no closer to a debate on Thursday, as Democrat Lee Fisher's campaign accused Republican Bob Taft of blurring the issue.

Mr. Taft, who as secretary of state is Ohio's chief elections officer, has insisted that any debates include all four candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot. The other two are Reform Party candidate John Mitchel and Zanna Feitler, a Natural Law Party member who is running as an independent.

Mr. Taft said he had accepted an invitation to debate the other three at the Cleveland City Club on Oct. 30. But Fisher spokeswoman Judy Barbao said Thursday Mr. Fisher had agreed to debate only Mr. Taft at that event.

She said Taft campaign spokesman Brett Buerck was trying to make it look as if Mr. Fisher had agreed to the four-way debate.

"To say we've agreed to a City Club debate with four candidates is absolutely incorrect. He's still continuing to float false information," Ms. Barbao said.

Meanwhile, a joint appearance by Mr. Taft and Mr. Fisher that had been scheduled Oct. 22 in Dayton was canceled this week.

The Your Voice, Your Vote sponsoring group that includes the Dayton Daily News, radio and television stations and the League of Women Voters had planned the forum. Organizers decided not to broaden the one-hour meeting into a four-way forum, saying it would dilute the discussion.

Mr. Taft withdrew this week.

"We are disappointed that Mr. Taft has reneged on his commitment to us," said Ellen Belcher, chairwoman of Your Voice, Your Vote. Organizers thought if they aired a Fisher-only forum, they would have to give Mr. Taft equal air time or risk having their broadcast licenses challenged, Ms. Belcher said.

Mr. Taft said Wednesday he was considering a compromise with Mr. Fisher that would allow some debates to take place. Ms. Barbao said that Mr. Fisher's campaign wanted to negotiate with the City Club, but that Mr. Taft wasn't going to budge.

"They are not moving at all. They're trying to create a false perception that they're willing to do these debates," she said.

Mr. Buerck said the Taft campaign's position had always been clear. "I'm not trying to create a false impression at all," he said. "We're not going to do any one-on-one debates."

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