Debate tiff ends: Canova, Wasserman Schultz agree to spar on TV

Democratic congressional candidate Tim Canova
Democratic congressional candidate Tim Canova Miami Herald

After originally rejecting an offer to debate U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Tim Canova agreed Thursday to do it after all, after a TV station said it would lengthen the time for the encounter.

The 8 a.m. Sunday debate will air on CBS4’s “Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede” and last one hour — twice as long as the show’s normal time slot.

For months, Canova, who is challenging Wasserman Schultz in the Democratic primary Aug. 30, sought debates with her and accused her of dodging him. On Wednesday, she finally agreed to the CBS4 debate.

“I look forward to a thoughtful conversation and robust debate that addresses the issues important to the people of Florida’s 23rd Congressional District,” she said in a statement.

But then it was Canova’s turn to shun a debate.

Canova’s campaign manager, Richard Bell, initially told the Miami Herald on Thursday that Canova “will not” participate in the debate, and Canova issued a statement bashing the idea of a 15-minute debate (although the show is a half hour with commercials).

If that was a ploy to get more free airtime by Canova, it worked.

On Thursday afternoon, CBS4 agreed to a one-hour format, and Wasserman Schultz and Canova both agreed to participate.

“I will be there on Sunday,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “I welcome my opponent’s participation if he decides he wants a real discussion of the issues that matter to our community.”

Canova also issued a statement: “After four months of dodging debates and running scared, Wasserman Schultz has finally agreed to debates. We were hoping for at least three 2-hour debates, but for the time being, this will have to suffice.”

Canova also said in a statement that he had agreed to a debate on Michael Putney’s “This Week in South Florida,” which airs on WPLG-Channel 10 on Sunday mornings. Wasserman Schultz’s spokesman, Ryan Banfill, said on Thursday that Putney renewed his ongoing offer to host a debate. Putney told the Herald he asked Wasserman Schultz Thursday about debating on his show and she told him she would debate on CBS4.

“She is focused on Sunday on CBS4,” Banfill said. “Sunday is the day.”

When Canova was interviewed by CBS4’s Eliott Rodriguez on Sunday, Rodriguez said it would be great to have Canova debate Wasserman Schultz on the DeFede show. Canova replied: “I would love that. I hope so.”

Wasserman Schultz has also appeared on the show by herself; she was interviewed by DeFede in April.

Canova, a Nova Southeastern University professor from Hollywood, is running in the Broward/Miami-Dade district against Wasserman Schultz, of Weston. The last time she faced a primary opponent was 1992 when she ran for the state Legislature — she has easily won her congressional seat since 2004. The district leans left, so the winner of the Democratic primary is virtually guaranteed to defeat the Republican candidate on Nov. 8.

So far in the two counties about 8,000 Democrats have voted by mail.