NASHVILLE - Republican gubernatorial hopeful Randy Boyd will not participate in Tennessee's last televised GOP candidates debate before the Aug. 2 primary, according to the sponsor, Tennessee-based television affiliates of Nexstar Media Group.
"Randy Boyd drops out of Republican gubernatorial debate," tweeted Kristin Farley, news anchor at Nexstar affiliate WATE-TV in Knoxville where the July 22 debates were scheduled to be held.
During a campaign swing in Upper East Tennessee, Boyd told Nexstar affiliate WJHL in Johnson City that "we just have a scheduling conflict. I don't do the schedule so I can't tell you when it came up. But we've had a scheduling conflict.
"But again," the Knoxville entrepreneur and former state economic development commissioner added, "we're the only candidate that's done all 18 debates. And by the way, you know this last debate is going to be almost 10 days after early voting started so half the people have already voted. So we're going to be out visiting with voters and working the crowds."
Tracey Rogers, general manager at Nexstar affiliate WKRN-TV said "as of this moment, the debate's still on," adding that U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Franklin businessman Bill Lee had all previously confirmed their attendance.
As word spread earlier Friday that one or more candidates might skip the debate, Black told reporters prior to voting near her Gallatin home that "we have it on our calendar."
In a brief email, Chris Walker, a Lee campaign aide, said, "Not surprised" regarding Boyd's dropping out of the debate. "We're in," Walker added, "fully."
But Harwell's campaign late Friday afternoon did not respond to a reporter's inquiry about the speaker's planned participation.
Boyd campaign CEO Chip Saltsman said in a statement that Boyd "is the only candidate who has participated in all 18 candidate debates and forums - and it's pretty clear where all of the candidates stand on the issues.
"So," Saltsman added, "we decided at this stage of the race, we would rather have Randy out talking directly to primary voters now that early voting is actually underway. But we look forward to doing more forums in the fall."
At this juncture of the race, all four Republicans spending heavily on television with Boyd and Black slamming each other. Latest polling shows a fairly tight race between Boyd and Black.
Nexstar has already aired two debates featuring Republican as well as Democratic candidates former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley in separate settings.
Besides the planned Republican debate in Knoxville on July 28, Nexstar affiliates also have an earlier debate between Dean and Fitzhugh.