Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson is calling out his Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, for ducking a debate that was being planned during the next two weeks.

“This is a critical election,” Peterson said Friday. “We have serious issues to talk about, and the public deserves to have that conversation.”

He pointed to such things as the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and public school funding.

Cox campaign manager Austin Cox said it’s too early in the election cycle to debate.

“The canvass for the primary election just happened this week so the primary just ended,” he said. “We’ll definitely be debating our opponent this fall, and that’s when most Utahns will be checking in and participating as well.”

Peterson said he was disappointed that the Cox campaign didn’t respond to requests to participate in a debate to be hosted by the E-Club, a satellite of the West Jordan Rotary Club, on July 29 or Aug. 5, and tweeted that the dodge was “not OK.”

Devin Thorpe, chairman of the Rotary E-Club and a Democratic candidate for Congress, said he reached out to the candidates with invitations as early as July 11. There were six attempts to contact the Cox campaign with no response.

Thorpe said Utah Rotarians could have submitted questions for the candidates and the debate’s planned moderator, KUTV’s Brian Mullahy, could also ask his own questions. Mullahy was first to report the debate controversy.

The Rotary Club is a nonpartisan group, and the debate would have been independent from Thorpe’s campaign for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, Thorpe said.

Austin Cox said the lieutenant governor, who bested three Republican rivals in the June 30 primary with a 36% plurality, isn’t planning on coasting to a win in November.

“While we do live in a predominantly Republican state, we’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You’ll see the lieutenant governor competing very hard to win this race and compete as the race demands.”

He added that he believes voters would be more attentive to a debate that occurs closer to the Nov. 3 election, and Spencer Cox needs to spend the next few weeks strategizing.

Correction: 7/25/20 11:29 a.m. Spencer Cox bested three rivals in the June 30 GOP primary, not four.