Republican U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock has backed out of a planned debate against Democratic challenger Jessica Morse that was to be hosted in the Lake Tahoe area by the Sierra Business Council and North Lake Tahoe Resort Association ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

McClintock, of Elk Grove, tweeted on Monday that he would no longer participate in the debate after Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, allegedly failed to disclose his public endorsement of Morse and donations he’s made to her campaign during talks leading up to the event.

“Sadly, this is not only unprofessional and very misleading, this type of bias throws any chance for a neutral, biased debate out the window,” McClintock tweeted, apparently intending to write “unbiased.”

McClintock also tweeted a photo on Monday that showed a post on Morse’s publicly viewable Facebook page from May 14 announcing Frisch’s endorsement of her with a picture of the two standing next to each other, as well as a screenshot from the Federal Elections Commission’s website showing $800 in contributions Frisch made to her campaign prior to the June 5 primary election.

The Sierra Business Council fired back at McClintock in a press release on Tuesday that stated the five-term incumbent and his campaign team had misrepresented the events that led to his withdrawal from the debate.

According to the press release, Frisch had told McClintock’s campaign manager, Jon Huey, about his personal support for Morse in an initial phone call they had on July 31 to discuss the details of the debate.

Both candidates were sent invitations to the debate on July 30.

“In short, the McClintock campaign characterization of the candor of Mr. Frisch and their characterization of the events leading up to their cancellation of the event are patently false,” the release stated. “It is disappointing that the McClintock campaign would misrepresent what happened.”

Huey said in a telephone interview with The Union Democrat on Wednesday that he didn’t believe he had ever spoken to Frisch on the phone prior to last week, adding that Frisch never mentioned being a supporter of Morse in their correspondence via email.

When asked for a response to Huey’s denial, Frisch maintained that they had spoken by phone on July 31 and he made it clear he supported Morse.

Brittany Benesi, the council’s communications director, also provided a written statement that explained efforts that were made throughout the process of planning the debate to address concerns from the McClintock campaign about bias due to knowledge of Frisch’s ideology, including changing the debate format to exclude questions from the audience.

Morse, of Pollock Pines, used the opportunity from McClintock’s withdrawal from the debate to question his support for small businesses.

“Clearly, Tom McClintock is not the champion of small business that he claims since he refuses to participate in a debate hosted by the Sierra Business Council and North Lake Tahoe Resort Association,” she stated in a press release on Tuesday.

Despite being a newcomer to politics, Morse has taken the lead over the veteran politician in terms of fundraising.

The latest campaign-finance data reported by the Federal Elections Commission showed that Morse had received more than $1.4 million in campaign donations from the start of last year through June 30, while McClintock has received nearly $1.2 million over the same period.

Morse had also spent $925,000 as of June 30, while McClintock had spent $804,000.

There’s a non-televised debate with both candidates that’s still scheduled to take place on Sept. 23 at Mariposa High School in Mariposa County.

The Morse campaign initially challenged McClintock to four debates prior to the general election that would take place in different parts of California’s 4th Congressional district, including the Roseville area, Lake Tahoe area and Mother Lode.

Both sides say they are discussing a possible debate hosted by a National Public Radio station in Sacramento, though that would be outside of the district.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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