Bennett and Cawthorn

FACEOFF — Lynda Bennett, left, and Madison Cawthorn, right, will face each other in a June 23 runoff election to see who will represent the Republican party against Moe Davis in the race for the 11th Congressional District.

On Tuesday, June 23, Republican voters in the 11th Congressional District will select the candidate who will represent their party in the November election. Given the demographics of the district, there is a good chance the winner of this race will go on to win a seat in Congress.

It is unfortunate the runoff primary is being held during the days of coronavirus when it is challenging to meet voters and give them a chance to learn how candidates think, vote and act in office.

It is even more unfortunate that one of the candidates, Haywood’s native daughter Lynda Bennett, is stonewalling the opportunity to appear beside her opponent (safely distanced, of course) to allow voters to compare and contrast what each candidate has to offer.

The Mountaineer, along with media partners The Sylva Herald and The Cherokee One Feather, spent the better part of two weeks arranging a forum that will be videotaped for broadcast on newspaper websites and Facebook pages. In addition, the video will be broadcast on Haywood’s government access channel, allowing local voters to learn about the race from the comfort of their living room.

Unfortunately, the Bennett campaign has not yet agreed to participate in the forum. We will be proceeding anyway, but the filming date isn’t until Wednesday, so it’s not too late for those who would like to see Bennett participate in the discussion to encourage her to do so.

Hendersonville candidate Madison Cawthorn replied, “Anytime and anyplace,” when invited to join the forum and could likely be the lone candidate responding to questions posed by the editors of the three participating newspapers.

It will be extremely disappointing if a leading Congressional contender from Haywood is unwilling to take part in the long-standing candidate forum hosted by her hometown newspaper. Our proposal was to follow the exact same format and site used by U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows during the last four pre-election forums he had in the district.

It was planned to be on the Western Carolina University campus, moderated by Chris Cooper, head of the WCU political science department and filmed by WCU personnel.

If both candidates participated, there was to be opening statements and questions posed to each candidate with a chance for rebuttal.

Initial exchanges with the Bennett campaign looked promising until the campaign proposed we limit the forum to a one-on-one exchange with each candidate, more along the lines of a “fireside chat,” which we rejected. Bennett’s campaign manager Bryan Hood stipulated, “While one candidate is being filmed, the other candidate should be in a holding/green room. No opposition candidate, staff, supporters will be allowed in the room during the filming of the opposing candidate’s time.”

Not allowing the opportunity for voters to compare the candidates side by side is a deal breaker for the newspapers involved as it would simply reduce the forum into two political speeches.

As the Bennett campaign asked, we will provide a neutral location with a neutral moderator. Our intention is to ask questions that both candidates should be able to easily answer, ideally in the presence of the other in case something needs to be disputed.

Once our position was communicated, we heard nothing more from either Bennett or her campaign manager.

We’re still hoping for a change of heart, but it has to happen quickly. Absentee voting is under way and the runoff primary date is quickly approaching.

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