Will Devin Nunes agree to a debate? He hasn’t accepted one since 2002


By Kate Irby | October 9th, 2020 at 5:00am PST

Rep. Devin Nunes has not responded to an invitation to debate his Democratic challenger, Phil Arballo, continuing his longstanding practice of not engaging with his opponents in forums.

Arballo, a financial adviser who lives in Fresno, sent a letter to Nunes last week asking Nunes to participate in one televised debate. Nunes has not responded, according to Arballo campaign spokesperson Andrew Feldman.

Nunes, R-Tulare, has served in Congress since 2003 and has not debated an opponent since his first election, according to a review of local media archives. He routinely won in reelection by 30 percentage points until 2018, when his reputation as an ally of President Donald Trump generated national interest in his campaign and fueled a challenge from Democrat Andrew Janz that came within five percentage points of unseating the incumbent.

The race in 2020 is considered “likely Republican” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which means the seat is “not considered competitive at this point, but (has) the potential to become engaged.” Nunes received 56.5% of the vote in the 2020 primary to Arballo’s 25.1%, though Nunes was the only Republican to run and Arballo was competing with other Democrats.

Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Arballo criticized Nunes for apparently ignoring the invitation to debate.

“I believe it is vital we have the opportunity to make our case to voters directly on the pressing issues we face in our country, from healthcare, to water, to climate change, to how we’re going to defeat the coronavirus and get our economy back on track,” Arballo wrote. “When I speak to families in the Valley, they are looking for leadership on these matters. We have an opportunity to cut through the everyday noise of partisan politics, speak directly to voters, and make the case for our differing visions on these important issues and the Valley’s future.”

According to a review of local media archives, the last time Nunes engaged in a debate was in 2002, on local conservative radio station KMJ, which was the year he was first elected to Congress. In 2004 and 2006, Nunes’ office cited scheduling conflicts that prevented him from debating his Democratic opponents.

In more recent years, including in 2014, 2016 and 2018, Nunes has provided no reason for declining debates. Janz said he also invited Nunes to debate multiple times in 2018 and received no response.


House candidates and serving members of Congress are under no mandate to debate. Typically, challengers are more eager to debate, because it can raise their name recognition. Members of Congress who see their reelection chances as safe, or who think a debate might hurt their chances, are generally less likely to agree to debates.

One district over, in California’s closest congressional battleground, Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, and his challenger, former Rep. David Valadao, agreed to one televised debate on Oct. 20. The two also debated in 2018 when Cox was challenging Valadao.

Some candidates who feel more confident still feel it’s a necessary event for voters.

In California’s 10th congressional district, for example, Democrat Rep. Josh Harder’s campaign agreed to debate Republican challenger Ted Howze, whose chances of unseating Harder declined after the national Republican party deserted Howze’s campaign over offensive social media posts. The Cook Political Report rates Harder’s chances as “likely Democratic.”

Nunes has not held public events in the district, typically referred to as town halls, in about a decade. He has held private fundraisers, as well as question and answer forums on KMJ.

Arballo is raising a good deal of money to challenge Nunes, including $1.4 million newly raised in the third quarter of 2020, bringing his total for the whole election cycle up to $4 million raised. But that’s only a quarter of what Nunes raised for the cycle halfway through 2020, when Nunes was sitting on $16 million raised. Nunes has not yet released his numbers for the third quarter of 2020, which are due on Oct. 15.

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