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Patrick Calls for Group to Open Up Runoff Debate to Media

UPDATED: A day before he is set to face incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff race's first debate in Houston, state Sen. Dan Patrick called on its organizers to open the forum to news outlets.

Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick, shown talking to voters during the Tarrant County Conservative Candidate Fair held in Hurst.

Updated, 5:17 p.m.: Republican lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick announced he would withdraw from a Tuesday debate in Houston because it was closed to news outlets.

The event — the first debate scheduled in a runoff race between Patrick, a Houston state senator, and incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst —  is being put on by the C-Club, a Houston-based conservative advocacy group that focuses on fiscal issues.

"I have had the pleasure of addressing this organization as their luncheon speaker in the past, and hope to have that same opportunity again,” said Patrick in a statement released by his campaign.  “But debates among major candidates for statewide office are simply not done in private."

C-Club President David Peacock told the Texas Tribune earlier Monday that both candidates were informed that the forum would be private when they agreed to attend.

Patrick consultant Allen Blakemore said in a statement on Monday afternoon that the campaign had "failed to discuss the ground rules for press access" when they accepted the invitation.

"I accept responsibility for that failure," Blakemore said.

Original story:

A day before he is set to face incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff race's first debate in Houston, state Sen. Dan Patrick called on the forum's organizers to open it to news outlets.

The C-Club, an advocacy group and political action committee that touts fiscally conservative principles, invited both candidates for a private luncheon debate Tuesday, moderated by the group's president.

“Sen. Patrick is an advocate for openness and transparency in government, and he believes those same principles should apply to campaigning as well," said Patrick campaign consultant Allen Blakemore. “I’m not aware if the 'C' Club has ever held a debate like this between major candidates for high office.  Candidates for high office do not traditionally debate behind closed doors."

Dewhurst would also be open to having news outlets at the debate, spokesman Travis Considine said in an email.

"He looks forward to any opportunity to show voters the different choices they have when it comes to choosing the next leader of the Texas Senate," he said. 

C-Club president David Peacock told the Tribune on Monday morning he did not expect the group to change plans, adding that both candidates had been told the event would be private when they agreed to appear.

"The theory is that if the press is not involved then the candidates have the opportunity to possibly be a little bit more open and frank in their conversations," he said.

Peacock also said he believed the River Oaks Country Club, the forum's venue, could not accommodate extra space for reporters to attend. 

"We’d probably be kicked out of the country club," if the group allowed news outlets to attend, he said.

When asked by the Tribune, Blakemore suggested that the Patrick campaign was unaware when it agreed to the event that it would be behind closed doors.

"It's one of these things, it's never come up before," he said, adding that it was "not reasonable" of the C-Club to keep news outlets out of a debate between two major candidates.

He said if the event remained private "it may be a dealbreaker" for Patrick's participation.

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