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Published August 19 2010

Debate challenge brews in race for US House

A coffee shop might not be the traditional setting for a congressional debate, but Democratic-NPL incumbent Earl Pomeroy said he’s up for it if it means the candidates can actually have a debate before Election Day.

As of Wednesday afternoon, still no debates had been scheduled between Pomeroy and GOP challenger Rick Berg, even after weeks of discussions-turned-quarrels over the issue.

Berg and Pomeroy have failed to agree on dates proposed by their opponents in the case of three separate invitations made by Fargo media, including Forum Communications, which owns The Forum.

In the second attack of its kind in as many weeks, Pomeroy’s campaign is questioning Berg’s decision to spend his time on local campaign events, rather than use the time to debate Pomeroy.

Berg was seen talking up potential voters in a Fargo coffee shop this week, according to the Pomeroy campaign, and last week, Berg spent an hour talking and taking calls on a conservative radio station.

“The ‘coffee shop tour’ comes at a time when Berg’s campaign insists his schedule is so packed that he doesn’t have even one hour of time to spare in the next month to drive across town and hold a debate,” a Pomeroy campaign statement said.

Berg, a state legislator, lives and works in Fargo, where proposed debates are slated to be held.

“Earl likes a good cup of coffee now and then, too,” Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe said. “But the way we see it, if you’ve seen one Starbucks, you’ve seen them all. Maybe Rick Berg could skip one or two of them and hold a debate instead.”

Timpe said Pomeroy would be happy to debate in one of Fargo’s coffee shops and added, “We’ll even spring for the coffee.”

Berg spokesman Tom Nelson reiterated the campaign’s previous statements that Berg is willing to debate, but the campaign is still trying to find a time that works for both sides.

“We’ve given them a dozen or so dates, and they’ve turned them down,” Nelson said. “We’re waiting on them to agree to a date.”

Pomeroy wants to debate before mid-September, before Congress is back in session.

However, Berg’s campaign says Berg’s schedule is booked with campaign events until at least mid-September and, instead, has proposed days in late September and early October to debate.

“We’re continuing campaigning. We have a full schedule that includes meeting with people,” Nelson said in response to the Pomeroy campaign’s latest criticism.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541