WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s campaign on Wednesday submitted a formal request to move the last presidential debate to the first week in September in an effort to address an expected increase in early voting amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who is leading the campaign’s debate negotiations with the commission, submitted the request in a letter dated Wednesday. Giuliani proposed moving up Trump’s first match-up with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden if the campaign’s request to add a fourth debate is denied.
The Trump campaign argues the debates, scheduled between Sept. 29 and Oct. 22, leave voters in several states without a chance to see Trump and Biden go head-to-head before casting the first ballots.
“By the time of the first presidential debate on September 29, 2020, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, as many as eight million Americans in 16 states will have already started voting,” Giuliani wrote in the letter.
If the commission dismisses the campaign’s request for an additional debate, the campaign is asking the debate planned for Oct. 22 be rescheduled for the first week in September.
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Early voting kicks off in North Carolina on Sept. 4, followed by Georgia on Sept. 15. Florida begins early voting on Sept. 24 and Arizona voters can cast their ballots the first week of October.
“For a nation already deprived of a traditional campaign schedule because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it makes no sense to also deprive so many Americans of the opportunity to see and hear the two competing visions for our country’s future before millions of votes have been cast,” Giuliani wrote.
Symone Sanders, senior adviser to Biden’s campaign, told reporters that Biden has committed to the three dates selected by the commission and suggested the Trump campaign had yet to agree on the terms.
“Vice President Biden has already committed to all three of those debates. We did not hesitate. It is the Trump campaign that has yet to fully commit to the debate,” she said.
“But I can tell you that Joe Biden is going to be ready so we’re looking very much forward to the debate.”
Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, pointed to a line in the campaign letter, which said: “The Trump and Joe Biden campaigns have already agreed to three scheduled debates.”
Trump raised the issue during a “Fox & Friends” interview earlier Wednesday, pointing out the first presidential match-up does not take place until after several states begin early voting.
“The one problem I have, the debate’s very late. It’s at the end of September and a lot of ballots will already be cast by that time. They want to make the debates as late as possible,” Trump told Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt.
Trump also said he “wouldn’t mind” adding more debates, but insisted moving up his first debate with Biden is his top priority.
“What’s more important to me is the first debate be moved up, so that when people are putting in their first ballot they’re going to know,” he continued. “I mean, there’s a vast difference. There’s never been two candidates or two philosophies, let’s say, that are more different than what we have.”
The request came after Biden announced he will no longer travel to Milwaukee to accept the Democratic party’s presidential nomination and will instead deliver remarks from his home state of Delaware.
The campaign also asked the commission to solidify alternative plans for debate locations in case COVID-19 concerns emerge in any of the scheduled locations, suggesting a “simple studio format with no audience” as a back-up.
“Now that Biden says he’s not even going to Milwaukee, we are convinced he’ll try to weasel out of debates,” Murtaugh said. “Backup locations are necessary to lock him in.”
The letter also details a list of suggested moderators, including Fox News’ Bret Baier and Maria Bartiromo, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who recently penned an op-ed in support of Trump, as well as CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell and ABC News’ David Muir.