LANSING, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) – Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer will face off in a forum on live on TV in advance of the Nov. 4 election under a "town hall" format, Detroit Public Television announced Monday.
The Oct. 12 forum in Detroit will be held in front of a live audience of "undecided" voters identified by pollsters for the Free Press and The Detroit News.
Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of the Free Press, and Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of The Detroit News, are to moderate the one-hour event. The site of the 6 p.m. town hall, which is to feature a relatively unrestricted format, has yet to be determined.
Christy McDonald, who anchors special coverage at WTVS Detroit Public TV, will introduce and close the event and field questions from the live audience.
"We congratulate both men for taking this step, which is so important to voters and to the democratic process," said Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Free Press.
"We're looking forward to a robust discussion on issues important to the future of Michigan."
The forum will be broadcast live in the Detroit area on WTVS (Channel 56), and will be made available to every media outlet in the state via satellite and the Internet.
"We feel it is our obligation, as the state's largest public broadcaster, to use our resources to share this event with as many voters as possible," said Rich Homberg, President and CEO of Detroit Public Television.
Until recently, progress on holding a gubernatorial event appeared to be at an impasse, with Schauer's campaign more eager to debate than Snyder's campaign. The two newspapers moderated negotiations between the camps that led to Monday's announcement.
Earlier, the governor pointed to a joint appearance planned in front of the Detroit Economic Club on Oct. 13, and on Wednesday announced a series of 10 "town hall" meetings in a move some analysts believed shut the door on a formal gubernatorial debate. Monday's announcement, while not a formal debate, will at least give voters a chance to see both candidates in action and allow for questions and answers by both candidates.
Most recent polls show Snyder and Schauer close to a statistical dead heat, with several showing Snyder with a small lead, two showing Schauer slightly ahead, and one poll released Monday showing an exact tie. Nearly all the polls show a gap between the candidates that is within the polls' margins of error.
Snyder campaign spokeswoman Emily Benavides said "Rick Snyder is committed to engaging directly with voters," and "as previously announced, the governor will conduct a series of town halls for an open and free discussion with Michigan voters on the issues that matter most to them."
Dianne Byrum, Schauer's debate negotiator, said "we are excited that Michigan voters will be able to see the two candidates who want to be Michigan's governor sharing a stage to debate the issues that affect them and their families."
Jake Markey of Cedarville in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a UAW retiree from GM who says he didn't like the Snyder administration's right-to-work legislation, but believes his vote and that of many others who love the outdoors will be more influenced by the candidates' positions on gun control.
"I hope somebody can ask the questions, and I hope that they will answer them," said Markey, who opposes stricter gun control measures.
In 2010, Snyder and his Democratic opponent, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, held one debate.
In 2006, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, held three televised debates with Republican challenger Dick DeVos.
Sue Smith, president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said she's glad to hear there will be at least one forum in the governor's race.
"It would be wonderful if there were more debates," in the governor's race, and at least one debate in the U.S. Senate race, Smith said.
The future of our state is really crucial -- we're kind of at a crossroads," Smith said.
Snyder's apparent change of heart on going head-to-head with Schauer came after pundits and at least one prominent Republican questioned his campaign strategy.
John Truscott, president of the Lansing public relations firm Truscott Rossman, who was press secretary to former Republican Gov. John Engler, on Friday posted on Facebook a link to a column criticizing Snyder's campaign tactics.
"Pretty good summary of how many are feeling about the campaign right now," Truscott posted. "It's not too late to actually have a winning strategy."
The column, by Inside Michigan Politics Publisher Susan Demas, criticized Snyder's campaign tactics and said "he's risking alienating voters in a race that's neck-and-neck" by appearing to be too smug, including his refusal to debate.
Truscott told the Free Press Friday his main concern was that the Snyder campaign or a third-party surrogate had not moved more quickly "to define Schauer before he defined himself," while at the same time "they allowed Schauer to define the governor a little bit."
Still, Truscott said he expected the campaign would "get it turned around in very short order."
Though Demas leans left, Finley, who is conservative, has also criticized the Snyder campaign.