Republican Rep. Dan Lungren dinged Democratic challenger Ami Bera on Wednesday for being MIA at a series of local candidate appearances, characterizing such events as a way to add substance to a race dominated by heavy spending on attack ads.
"The way you get through the clutter of the negative ads and the way you actually revive the idea of a spirited debate between all of those candidates who are out there is to require people to show up at all of these forums so they can't hide behind the voters," he told KFBK's John McGinness during an afternoon radio appearance.
Lungren and Bera, competing for the second time in what is now the 7th Congressional District, squared off for the first time earlier this year in a Sept. 25 debate sponsored by The Sacramento Bee, News10 and Capital Public Radio. Both also participated in a late September candidate forum sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association.
But Lungren pointed to several other instances in which Bera declined to attend, including a luncheon organized each election year by the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce and the community council and a debate sponsored by the River Valley Tea Party Patriots and the Rancho Murieta Progressive Americans for Truth. Another event proposed by the Folsom Chamber of Commerce and the Folsom Telegraph newspaper was scrapped after Bera's campaign didn't respond to requests to attend, according to that event organizer.
"I actually put an empty chair there," Lungren said of one of the events.
The topic of Bera's RSVP record was pushed by McGinness, who had invited both candidates to participate in a forum on his show. The former Sacramento County sheriff stressed that though he is a conservative, anything Bera said during the forum "would have been his words unedited" on the airwaves.
Bera campaign manager Josh Wolf dismissed suggestions that the Elk Grove Democrat's public schedule has been sub par, saying Lungren has "dodged his fair share of candidate forums." He pointed to a candidate forum Bera attended solo that was sponsored by a number of organizations, including the California Latino Leadership Network, the Sacramento Press Club, the League of Women Voters and the Yes on 38 campaign. He also noted that McGinness was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Lungren earlier this year.
"(Lungren's) just trying to set up a double standard so he can cherry pick what he wants to do when the realty is he is a hypocrite," Wolf said, adding, "We feel that there has been a lot of opportunity for undecided voters to hear them out on the issues."
The race for the Sacramento County swing seat is considered one of the country's most competitive congressional contests, with several national observers rating the district as a "toss up" between the two-time rivals. The National Republican Congressional Committee has asked major donors to help Lungren in the final week, including the Gold River Republican in a list of incumbents most in need of money, according to Politico.
Video replay: Dan Lungren-Ami Bera debate in Sacramento