After skipping debates all year, Burgess Owens agrees to debate Darlene McDonald on Friday, Oct. 28

During negotiations for the Oct. 28 debate, Owens’ campaign said they wanted to close the event to the media.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Burgess Owens, left, and Darlene McDonald, candidates for Utah's 4th Congressional District. After Owens back out of a debate earlier this month, the two candidates will now debate on Oct. 28, according to a text message from Owen's campaign.

After skipping out on a televised debate earlier this month, Republican Burgess Owens agreed to debate Democrat Darlene McDonald on Friday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m., in their first and only faceoff during Utah’s 4th Congressional District race.

And while the campaigns worked together to plan for the Oct. 28 debate, Owens’ campaign expressed the desire to block The Salt Lake Tribune from attending or participating in the event.

McDonald’s campaign confirmed the debate was scheduled for Oct. 28 and Owen’s campaign appeared to send a text message to voters on Friday announcing the debate. Both parties said details on how the event will be streamed were forthcoming.

Owens pulled out of the nonpartisan Utah Debate Commission’s Oct. 12 debate with McDonald and United Utah candidate January Walker just hours before the event, citing objections to The Tribune executive editor Lauren Gustus as moderator and his frustrations with an editorial cartoon published by the paper last year. At the time, Owens invited McDonald to join him for a debate at town hall meetings on Oct. 22 and 29.

A text message from the Burgess Owens campaign invites voters to a virtual debate with Darlene McDonald.

After more than a week of negotiations, the two campaigns settled on just one debate moderated by University of Utah political science professor James Curry, according to McDonald’s campaign. They added that the event will be livestreamed without an audience, that no third-party candidates would participate and the debate will follow the format used by the Utah Debate Commission.

During the negotiations on a new date for the debate, Owens’ campaign representatives said allowing The Tribune to attend or participate in the event or participate would likely lead to another objection from their candidate. Adam Jones, with the Owens’ campaign, told McDonald’s team earlier this week that they wanted to close the event to the press to specifically block The Tribune from participating.

“If we open it to the press, you’re going to get The Tribune there. That’s just going to cause a problem that I don’t think leads to the purpose of having a debate,” Jones said.

McDonald’s campaign representatives pushed back, hoping to allow media members in the room to answer questions.

“He’s not going to have anything to do with The Tribune. If we want to do a debate, having them there is not going to be helpful,” Jones said.

Jones, on Friday night, said the campaign had no additional comment.

As of Friday evening, it was unclear if the media would be invited to cover the debate, as they have with each of the Utah Debate Commission events this fall.

Until now, Owens has refused to participate in any debates during the 2022 election cycle. He skipped debates sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission and Utah Republican Party before the June primary election. The last time Owens shared a debate stage with a political rival was a single debate with Democrat Ben McAdams just over two years ago.

The rescheduled debate comes just 11 days before Election Day and nearly two weeks after mail-in ballots began arriving in voters’ mailboxes.

Clarification • This story has been updated to make clear that McDonald’s campaign outlined the parameters of the future debate.