Former Rep. Bobby Schilling has challenged his successor, Rep. Cheri Bustos, to debates in all 14 counties of the 17th Congressional District, which includes Whiteside and Carroll counties.
So far, Bustos, a Democrat from East Moline, has agreed to one debate – on TV station WQAD in the Quad Cities in October, with details expected to come later.
"We are looking to do long-form debates to get away from the 5-second soundbite culture that has taken over politics in recent years," Schilling campaign spokesman Jon Schweppe said in an email to Sauk Valley Media. "We have not heard back from the Bustos campaign on our challenge yet."
In 2012, the candidates had three televised debates, held in Peoria, Rockford and the Quad Cities.
After serving 2 years in Congress, Schilling, R-Colona, lost his 2012 re-election bid to Bustos. That was after the Democratic Legislature redrew the 17th District to make it friendlier to a Democratic candidate.
In a news release, Schilling said his proposal would include debates in areas that are often forgotten.
Schweppe said in the release that Bustos had had no town halls since taking office. After tea party disruptions at town halls at 2010, many Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, stopped having such public forums.
"There are plenty of towns where Bustos has never even stepped foot," Schweppe said. "The voters are growing tired of her photo ops and 140-character Facebook posts – they want to hear where she stands and why she refuses to answer simple questions."
In accepting the WQAD debate invitation, Jeremy Jansen, campaign manager for Bustos, indicated the incumbent welcomed forums with Schilling.
“Our campaign has worked extensively for weeks with local TV, newspaper and radio partners to afford voters in every corner of Illinois' 17th Congressional District an opportunity to hear firsthand from both candidates," Jansen said in a news release. “That is why we are pleased to accept this opportunity for all voters across our region of Illinois to learn about the stark contrast between Cheri's record of championing jobs and working families and that of ex-Congressman Schilling, who turned his back on American workers and repeatedly voted to end the Medicare guarantee.”
In an email to Sauk Valley Media, Jansen said, "Until the details of [the WQAD] debate are agreed upon, it is hard for us to entertain hypothetical debates."
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan online newsletter that analyzes congressional races, considers Bustos’ 17th District competitive but says Democrats have the advantage.
When Bustos ran in the Democratic primary in 2012, she was largely expected to win. Then-Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, one of her rivals, proposed more debates in the primary, accusing Bustos of "derailing the vetting process and stripping voters of their rights to ask candidates questions and listen to a debate of issues."
Opponents often want to get on the same stage with the front-runner.
In a statement, Bustos said at the time that she was in the middle of a 14-county "listening" tour.
"What people are talking to me about are jobs, Social Security, Medicare and how we are going to balance the budget," she said. "Not a single person has asked me about the number of debates we are doing."
Congresswoman's staffer to meet public today in Sterling
STERLING – A staff member from the office of U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, will have office hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at Bustos’ satellite office in Sterling Coliseum, 212 Third Ave.
Constituents can discuss job creation, economic development, and other issues. Office hours are set for the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
Bustos represents the 17th Congressional District, which includes Whiteside and Carroll counties.