Democrat Randy Perkins and Republican Rebecca Negron will skip the only televised debates before next week’s primaries in the nationally watched race for Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional District 18.
WPTV Channel 5 is taping separate Democratic and Republican debate segments Wednesday night in West Palm Beach. The debates, moderated by news anchor Michael Williams, will air Sunday at 10 a.m. on the NBC affiliate. The Democratic and Republican primaries are next Tuesday, Aug. 30.
WPTV says Democrats Jonathan Chane and John (Juan) Xuna have confirmed they’ll attend, as have five Republicans seeking the seat: Carl Domino, Mark Freeman, Rick Kozell, Brian Mast and Noelle Nikpour.
Both Perkins and Negron cited prior campaign commitments in declining WPTV’s invitation.
The District 18 race is expected to be one of the most hotly contested in the country this year.
Republicans hold a 38.1-to-34.6 percent registration edge over Democrats in the district. But Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter was elected there in 2012 and 2014. With Murphy running for U.S. Senate this year, both parties have made the District 18 race a top priority this year.
A rare meeting of all three Democrats seeking the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 congressional seat didn’t permit interaction between the candidates on Thursday night but still showed the contrast between primary foes Jonathan Chane and Randy Perkins over their credentials as Democrats.
Perkins, founder and CEO of disaster-relief giant AshBritt Environmental and a major donor in the past to Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans, changed his voter registration from no party affiliation to Democrat in November, shortly before opening a campaign to replace Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who is running for Senate.
Chane, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens, has tried to persuade Democratic primary voters that he’s the only true Democrat in the race.
“My Democratic values are something that have been instilled in me since I was a little boy. It wasn’t a box I checked when I got into this race,” Chane said at Thursday night’s Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting.
The DEC meeting featured District 18 Democratic candidates Chane, Perkins and John (Juan) Xuna, a Stuart resident running a low-budget campaign who described himself Thursday as a “Berniecrat” in the mold of Bernie Sanders.
County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo structured the event to minimize fireworks. Each candidate got to make a five-minute opening statement. Candidates then got a minute apiece to answer three questions submitted in writing by members of the audience.
“I’ve asked them not to criticize their opponent, but to tell why they are the better candidate,” Rizzo said before the candidates spoke.
Perkins himself brought up his brief history as a Democrat when it was his turn to make an opening statement. He acknowledged registering with the party only last year, but noted that he has garnered the support of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and this week campaigned with former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who was known as a “fire-breathing liberal” when he represented a Palm Beach-Broward congressional district from 1995 to 2010.
“I might not be a fire-breathing liberal, but I promise you I’m a Democrat,” said Perkins, who said he holds traditional Democratic views on issues such as abortion, gay rights, Social Security and Medicare and protecting the environment.
Later, in response to an audience question of “Why are you a Democrat?” Perkins said: “I am a Democrat. But I’m a Democrat who wants to get things done and solve problems and I understand in order to do that, you’ve got to be able to sit down with people on the other side of the aisle to make that happen.”
Chane has tried unsuccessfully to get Perkins to agree to a true debate, believing Democratic primary voters would look unfavorably on Perkins’ past financial support for a variety of Republicans. Thursday night’s meeting wasn’t the format Chane wanted.
“There’s no opportunity to give and take. We weren’t allowed to discuss the contrast between the candidates,” Chane said after Thursday night’s meeting. “The people of the 18th District deserve to be able to ask questions of the people who are running for these offices.”
Perkins said he’s only interested in debates or forums “if they’re positive and they’re substantive and they actually want to discuss issues and talk about what can be done in this district and leave the negativity out and the attacking out.”
STUART — Democratic congressional candidate Jonathan Chane accused one of his primary rivals, businessman Randy Perkins, of being afraid to face Democratic primary voters after Perkins did not attend a District 18 candidate forum in Stuart this afternoon.
Attorney Chane and John (Juan) Xuna, an engineer and self-described “social Democrat,” answered questions for about an hour from Martin County activist and radio show host K.C. Ingram. The Democrats, six Republicans and an independent are running to replace Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who is running for Senate. Republican candidates appeared together beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Both Chane and Xuna called for buying land south of Lake Okeechobee to store water and prevent harmful discharges into the Indian River Lagoon. Both oppose the All Aboard Florida train and are against cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Both favor more gun control measures than are on the books now. Both said they support decriminalizing marijuana.
Xuna twice criticized AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and on another occasion said “We need to protect people (in the Middle East), like Israel, right, but we shouldn’t be also the shield of David, going to war because Israel is not doing enough for peace in the area and everything they touch becomes in flame.”
Chane used his closing remarks to take aim at Perkins, the millionaire founder of a disaster cleanup firm who is the favorite of the Washington Democratic establishment for the District 18 seat. Perkins has not agreed to attend any debates or candidate forums before the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, but his campaign has said he will debate Chane before the primary.
Said Chane: “He’s afraid to answer these same questions or answer Democratic voters about the serious questions that have been raised about him and they deserve to have answers from him.”
Perkins switched his registration from no party to Democrat in November shortly before entering the race. Chane said Perkins needs to explain to Democrats why he made large contributions to Republican candidates in the past, including $200,000 to help Republican Rick Scott’s 2010 election as governor.
Perkins campaign manager Isaiah Nelson said Perkins had a longstanding scheduling conflict and could not attend today’s forum. He pledged that Perkins would participate in at least one forum or debate before the primary, though no specific event has been scheduled. As for being “afraid” of primary voters, Nelson said, “Randy’s been out and held hundreds of meetings across the district in the last seven months” and has answered any questions put to him by voters.