After days of criticism for not committing to debating his rivals in Alabama’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, the frontrunner in the race now says he is “certainly open to debates.”
But Mike Durant, the Huntsville businessman and former prisoner of war, gave the caveat that he has a campaign schedule planned.
“We’re fine with debates,” Durant told reporters just before he addressed a meet and greet Thursday night at Superior Grill in Hoover. “We’ve got a schedule that was laid out, but if we could fit it in, we’d be glad to do it. …It’s not scheduled right now, but my team is in conversations with everybody that wants to do it.”
Durant, who had the lion’s share of support in the most recent independent poll conducted on the race and has raised the most money, has faced criticism from his two main rivals for the GOP nomination — former Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Britt and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks — for not committing to debating. Britt and Brooks both agreed to participate in a Senate debate being organized by the Alabama Republican Party that would be televised statewide but Durant had not said if he would.
“Mike Durant has the public policy chops of a snail,” Brooks said at a campaign town hall event last week in Huntsville. “I think Mike Durant would get clobbered in a debate if somebody asked him a hard question. He would be like a deer in the headlights.”
Britt knocked Durant for not being accessible to voters on the campaign trail.
“We have done Senate forum after Senate forum,” she said. “And I have to give it to Congressman Brooks. He’s been at every single one of them with me. The other candidate (Durant) came to one and then has not been to the last five.”
And when AL.com contacted a Durant spokesman about the criticism on Wednesday, the campaign had no comment.
But the former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, who was shot down in Somalia in 1994 and taken hostage and whose story was told in the hit film “Black Hawk Down,” claimed the attacks were baseless.
“Well, when you’re in the lead, there’s criticism in pretty much anything that you do, and a lot of it is not factual,” Durant said. “But we’re certainly open to debates.”
Both the Brooks and Britt campaigns said they were encouraged by Durant’s comments.
“Great! They have not contacted us. But we certainly continue to invite Mike Durant to accept at least one of several televised debate invitations that have been extended,” said Britt campaign spokesman Sean Ross.
“Super,” Brooks said.