By Christopher Cadelago
Staff Writer

December 7, 2011

Rep. Brian Bilbray urged his challengers to consent to four debates before the June primary election, saying the forums would give residents in the new congressional district the opportunity to learn more about the candidates’ views and experiences.

“The economic challenges facing our nation have never been greater,” Bilbray, R-San Diego, said in a statement Wednesday. “People are angry at the failure of Washington politicians to make the tough decisions necessary to get America working again and I share that frustration.

“These are serious times that require serious people. The voters of the 52nd District deserve the chance to hear from each of us about how we are going to tackle these problems.”

Bilbray wants four, one-hour debates between Jan. 1 and June 4. The six-term congressman’s preferred formats include one debate on public radio and one on local television. He asked that one be hosted by conservative commentators Rick Amato or Mark Larson and another by a community group or groups.

Candidates in the race include former Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, Port of San Diego Chairman Scott Peters and Republican John Stahl.

Stahl said Wednesday he was supportive of the debate formats as proposed. Saldaña and Peters also were on board with setting an aggressive debate schedule, but disagreed with some of Bilbray's proposal.

Saldaña suggested six public debates in every corner of new district between January and the June 5 primary. However, she insisted that the discussions take place in the community and not in broadcast studios.

“There are many important issues in the 2012 election of critical interest to voters, and I want to hear directly from the people in the 52nd,” she said. “My campaign is eager to work with the other campaigns, along with the League of Women Voters or other mutually agreed upon civic organizations, to develop appropriate debate formats and agreed upon venues, dates, etc.

“I fully expect that this kind of open and honest debate with candidates and voters will attract media attention, and I invite media representatives to join the community in their neighborhoods, and participate in locations throughout the 52nd district.”

Peters called Bilbray's proposal “a great sign.”

“This is a brand new district whose voters may not know as much about the incumbent as they should,” he said. “He is a long-time Washington insider who has become more concerned with partisanship than offering solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems. I welcome the chance to compare his record of partisanship to my record of problem solving.”

Robert Dempsey, Peters' campaign manager, added that no one campaign should dictate the terms and he looks forward to neutral, unbiased public forums in the months ahead.

The top two vote-getters in the June election advance to November, regardless of their party affiliation. A potential key factor in the general election will be the candidates’ abilities to attract the nearly one-third of registered voters that have declined to affiliate with a party.