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Marshall dodges Wilmington debate with Cunningham


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The two Democrats hoping to challenge Republican Richard Burr for his seat in the US Senate will not debate in Wilmington. Elaine Marshall's campaign today rejected WWAY's invitation to take part in a June 2 debate citing a scheduling conflict. The station offered to explore other dates, but the campaign said no. It also said it has no plans for Marshall to take part in debates other than two in Raleigh. Cal Cunningham's campaign accepted the invitation to debate in Wilmington the same day it was extended.

"I'm disappointed," Cunningham told WWAY today. "I was very pleased when we won New Hanover County. I was looking forward to coming down there, and I'm still looking forward to coming down to engage voters."

Last week no candidate in the Democratic primary for US Senate got enough votes to claim the nomination. That means Marshall, North Carolina's Secretary of State, and Cunningham, a former state senator, will face off again in a run-off June 22.

Two days after the primary, Cunningham announced he had accepted two debates in June in Raleigh and challenged Marshall to join him to work with civic groups and media outlets for three more debates across the state. Within hours of Cunningham's challenge, WWAY invited the candidates to take part in a debate June 2 here in Wilmington. WHQR radio and the Greater Wilmington Business Journal signed on as co-sponsors and panelists. Cape Fear Community College offered to host the event at the Schwartz Center to allow for a large, live audience.

This is not the first time a Democratic candidate has snubbed the Cape Fear Coast. During the 2008 primary race for Governor, Bev Perdue and Richard Moore refused to take part in a debate in Wilmington. Perdue also refused to debate Republican Pat McCrory ahead of the general election.

Cunningham, who finished second to Marshall in the primary, said he will be in Riegelwood Saturday for the Democratic Party's 7th District Convention.

"I believe it falls to the people of North Carolina to decide who represents us in Washington," Cunningham said. "This is an election; not a coronation."

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