REDMOND, Ore. - On Monday night there was supposed to be, by some accounts, a debate between the two leading GOP primary U.S. Senate candidates, state Rep. Jason Conger and Dr. Monica Wehby, but only Wehby ended up appearing and speaking at the event.
Back on April 17th, Bob Perry of the Redmond Patriots told NewsChannel 21 by e-mail that Conger had been invited to the meeting, along with Wehby, who has surged in fund-raising and attention over the Bend Republican in recent weeks.
"To our knowledge, this is the only planned event where BOTH will appear in Central Oregon prior to the primary election," Perry wrote.
Whatever happened after that, it was definitely a messy situation -- a classic case of "he said, she said" between the candidates and the event organizer.
"I know that there's been some information -- misinformation, sent out there by one of the campaigns -- the Conger campaign, saying there was going to be a debate tonight between Conger and Wehby," Perry told NewsChannel 21 Monday night. "That's not true."
Conger said he has been eager to debate Wehby, but two days after he was invited, was "rudely uninvited" and told to stay away from the forum by the Redmond Patriots.
"This is about informing voters," Conger told NewsChannel 21 Monday night. "It's not about manipulating the process, creating and spreading misinformation. And to the extent that that's happening isn't coming from us.
Wehby told the Redmond audience she isn't focused on her primary competition, but looking more toward a fall battle with the incumbent, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
"Very rarely would you hear me say something about Jason, unless I'm directly asked," Wehby said. "I really am focused on Senator Merkley."
Conger said he doesn't know how the situation became messy, but was disappointed with the way it was handled.
He said he'd told Perry he'd agree to appear, despite a selection of radio talk show host Lars Larson as moderator -- who he says is no fan of his.
"I called Bob and said, 'That's not a fair setup (but) I'll take it, because she won't debate me," Conger said. "He said, 'Okay, we'll do it."
But apparently, Larson soon backed out, and Conger said he was "rudely uninvited" to appear at the event.
"I think it is really sophomoric," Conger said. "Again, this is not a race for class president. This is a United States Senate race, and I take it very seriously."
In an e-mail to NewsChannel 21 Tuesday morning, Perry wrote: "For the record, Mr. Conger was 'uninvited' to participate for the following reasons: 1) inappropriate communications of confidential information by members of his campaign; 2) inability to negotiate a dual appearance acceptable to both campaigns; and 3) Mr. Conger already had been exposed to the questions we would be asking last night during his participation in our Mar. 10 meeting -- thus placing Dr. Wehby at a distinct disadvantage because the questions were already known by him -- and not her."
Wehby told the Redmond group that a united party is their best shot at winning in November.
"This is the biggest problem that we have as Republicans," Wehby said. "If we want to win this race, we cannot beat each other up, and we cannot divide each other."
Conger said Wehby has only agreed to a joint appearance on May 16th, four days before ballots are counted -- but well after many mail ballots are cast.