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CANDIDATE FACE-OFF UNLIKELY MCKEON CAN'T FIND TIME, SPOKESMAN SAYS.

Byline: ALEX DOBUZINSKIS Staff Writer

PALMDALE -- A face-to-face debate between Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon and his two challengers in the race for Congress appears unlikely, with three weeks left before the election.

McKeon's main opponent, Democrat Robert Rodriguez, has accused the Republican congressman from Santa Clarita of running from a fight.

But McKeon campaign spokesman Scott Wilk said the seven-term incumbent has just been unable to find time in his schedule. McKeon has debated challengers in past elections.

``We're under no obligation to debate at all,'' Wilk said. ``He's under an obligation to his constituents to do his job.''

Like most House of Representatives seats from California, McKeon's 25th District is considered a safe race for the incumbent. But Rodriguez argues that the district's demographics are changing, making the race more competitive.

On Friday, Rodriguez, 29, and Libertarian candidate David Erickson, 50, participated in a forum at the Antelope Valley Senior Center in Lancaster. McKeon was invited but did not attend.

In Santa Clarita, the head of an organization called the Democratic Alliance for Action has slammed McKeon for not agreeing to a date when the congressman could debate Rodriguez.

Rodriguez took a noncombative approach in his forum with Erickson, but he's been more critical of McKeon.

``(A debate) would give people an opportunity to find out what this guy really stands for,'' said Rodriguez, who previously worked as an aide to Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Lakewood. ``And if you're not scared of your record, then you shouldn't be afraid to show it to ... your constituents, who deserve to know what they're voting for.''

Rodriguez has called for troop withdrawals to start in Iraq -- arguing that troops should be used to help control the border with Mexico instead of fighting in Iraq.

McKeon wants to make permanent the tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush five years ago, and the congressman supports building a 700-mile fence with Mexico.

``If the debate ever does occur,'' Wilk said, ``I'm highly confident the congressman will skewer (Rodriguez) into ... kebobs because of his liberal record. It's out of step with this district.''

But with the election set for Nov. 7, no date has been set for a debate.

``I'd say it's unlikely just because of scheduling conflicts,'' Wilk said.

Erickson, the Libertarian candidate, said at Friday's forum that he understands why McKeon won't debate -- the district is predominantly Republican and he stands little chance of losing.

alex.dobuzinskis(at)dailynews.com

(661) 257-5253

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(1 -- color) McKEON

(2 -- color) RODRIGUEZ
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 17, 2006
Words:422
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