Bush Agrees to Arizona Debate
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Texas Gov. George W. Bush agreed Friday to his fourth presidential debate _ one being arranged in Arizona on Dec. 6 to fit his schedule.
The debate will come about two weeks after another being staged by the Arizona Republican Party, a meeting that Bush previously declined to attend.
It also comes as the Republican presidential front-runner is being criticized for ducking his rivals. Bush aides disputed that.
``Governor Bush has always said he looks forward to debating the other candidates,″ said campaign spokesman Scott McClellan.
He said Bush was in Arizona recently and that Mike Minnaugh, the party’s state chairman, asked whether another date that would work for Bush.
``Our campaign staff worked closely with the state party and our chairman out there and this was a date that worked,″ McClellan said.
Asked why Bush would not participate in the party’s debate on Nov. 21, McClellan said: ``We were unable to do it on that date and we had previously let them know that.″
Word that Bush was attending the as-yet unorganized debate appeared to catch Minnaugh by surprise. He said he had not received confirmation by late Friday afternoon but thought the reports were true.
Minnaugh said that assuming Bush can attend, the party ``will do everything possible to organize a debate.″
The state party is already preparing for the Nov. 21 debate in Tempe, Ariz. Three other candidates have confirmed: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, publisher Steve Forbes and conservative commentator Alan Keyes.
Party officials said previously that the debate would take place regardless of the presence of the front-runner. Bush already has missed two debates in New Hampshire because of scheduling conflicts.
The late addition prompted befuddlement and criticism from Bush’s rivals.
``We’ve agreed to the 21st, and if we get an invitation to another one, we’ll consider it, but we will be there the 21st and the governor will be missing again,″ said Bill Dal Col, Forbes’ political director.
McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said: ``We’ve agreed to a debate on the 21st and we have not received any invitations for anything else in Arizona.″
Although Arizona is McCain’s home state, it has become a battleground in the primary campaign.
Bush has been endorsed by Republican Gov. Jane Hull and, in a Sunday editorial, The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, questioned whether McCain had the temperament to be president.
In addition to the Arizona debate, Bush has agreed to participate in debates in New Hampshire on Dec. 2 and in Iowa on Dec. 13 and Jan. 15. Campaign officials said Bush will likely participate in another debate in New Hampshire in January.