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Bishop, Keown agree to public Albany debate

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Four days before election day, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and challenger Mike Keown, R-Coolidge, will face off on stage at the Albany Municipal Auditorium in what likely will be the Albany area's only public debate between the congressional opponents.

Sponsored by The Albany Herald, the debate at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 will be free and open to the public and will follow the presidential debate model, giving both candidates an opportunity for opening and closing statements with a moderator and questions asked by a panel.

"We hope it will be a good opportunity for voters in our area to get a final impression of the candidates before they go to the polls the next Tuesday," Jim Hendricks, editor of The Albany Herald, said Wednesday. "It's a high-profile race that can have national implications, so I hope voters will avail themselves of the opportunity to hear the candidates.

"We certainly appreciate the efforts of the city officials in Albany who worked with us to secure this venue for the benefit of citizens who want to be informed before they vote."

The Herald will be soliciting questions online between now and Oct. 28 from the public to ask during the event. To submit a question, e-mail it to debate@albanyherald.com.

Bishop, who has served 18 years as representative of the district, is getting a strong challenge from Keown, who is a state representative from Coolidge.

Both have spent considerable time traversing the district, speaking to civic clubs and at community events, each trying to drum up support for his respective campaign.

The two have appeared together at public forums in Thomasville and Columbus, but this event will be the last opportunity voters will have to see and hear the candidates spar before to election day.

Bishop, who has survived close calls in the past, has been caught in a whirlwind of anti-spending, anti-Democrat and anti-incumbent sentiment following a series of unpopular votes on items such as the Wall Street bailout, health care reform and cap and trade.

The Bishop campaign took another public relations hit after private scholarships from the Congressional Black Caucus under Bishop's control were used for family members and friends.

Bishop told The Associated Press Wednesday that he didn't steer the scholarships to anyone, saying instead that CBC scholarships are awarded by a lawmaker's wives group and that it was likely his wife who selected recipients of the scholarships.

Keown, however, appears to be using that anti-government sentiment to fuel his campaign, drawing within striking distance of Bishop as the campaign nears its end.

This week, however, Keown hit his first major stumbling block of the race when his top campaign strategist, consultant and former lobbyist Jay Walker, resigned after being caught up in a federal indictment for alleged vote buying connected with a massive federal probe into Alabama gambling.

And Democrats have been pounding Keown for his votes in the state House to increase government fees in contradiction to his position that he is for less taxes and smaller government.

Bishop has had his own problems with staff miscues in the campaign. When Keown secured the GOP nomination, his congressional office spokesman, Ashton McRae, sent out a message on Bishop's official congressional e-mail and website slamming Keown for having bitten off more than he could chew.

In August, a recorded March phone message to a Calhoun County farmer surfaced in which Bishop district farm aide Jamey Crozier used profanity in telling the grower, Edward Wilkins, not to expect any more help from him in dealing with Farm Service Agency problems.

In an e-mail to Bishop, Crozier contends the recorded outburst was his reaction to Wilkins using derogatory terms, including an ethic slur, in reference to Bishop. Wilkins denied making any such remarks and said the incident was prompted by his telling Bishop that he wouldn't vote for him Nov. 2 because of his legislative votes.