An upcoming debate between Illinois candidates for U.S. Senate has been canceled, as organizers say Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias has turned down a request to participate.

The debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 21 at the WSIU broadcasting studios in Carbondale and co-sponsored by The Southern Illinoisan, was meant to include senatorial candidates from all three of Illinois' legally established political parties, but Giannoulias' denial caused organizers to cancel the event.

The Alexi for Illinois campaign issued a statement Tuesday evening, saying Giannoulias wanted to attend but refused to participate in a debate that included Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones and not Libertarian candidate Michael Labno.

"We believe Libertarian Mike Labno should have an opportunity to attend and participate as well," said spokesman Scott Burnham. "But whether it is all four candidates or just the two major-party candidates, we want the debate to be held."

David Yepsen, of SIUC's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the rules of the debate did not allow for Labno to participate and Giannoulias' decision was a disappointment.

"It's disappointing, but these things happen in politics," Yepsen said. "The rules we put together were that we would invite any candidate of an established political party. We're not going to change the rules for one candidate."

Independent candidates would only be invited to the debate if they had received at least a 5-percent vote in neutral polls by Oct. 1, Yepsen said, and no independent candidates met the requirements.

Yepsen, who was to be a questioner during the debate, said it was unfortunate that Southern Illinoisans would not have a chance to see their U.S. Senate candidates make their cases for office locally.

The ground rules of the debate were communicated to all of the invited candidates months ago, said Gary Metro, editor of The Southern Illinoisan, and it is not unusual to use a 5-percent cutoff as determining criteria.

"The Giannoulias campaign attempted to change the rules of our debate," Metro said. "We couldn't allow a candidate that kind of authority, just as we wouldn't allow candidates to write their own news stories. The integrity and credibility of the debate would have been irreparably damaged."

The Mark Kirk for U.S. Senate campaign responded Tuesday, challenging Giannoulias to reconsider his choice to withdraw.

"It's disappointing that Giannoulias apparently doesn't believe the people of Southern Illinois deserve to see their U.S. Senate candidates debate," said spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "Congressman Kirk encourages Giannoulias to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the Southern Illinois debate."



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