CHEYENNE — Challenging candidates are frustrated after incumbent Reps. Harriet Hageman and Sen. John Barrasso, both Wyoming Republicans, refused to appear in a primary debate hosted by Wyoming PBS, prompting the public television network to cancel the event.

The pre-primary debate was scheduled for Aug. 8 in Casper, but plans quickly fell apart when both incumbent candidates declined to appear, Wyoming PBS senior producer Steve Peck told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in an email Monday.

“That’s how far the process went,” Peck said. “We didn’t announce or promote the debates, we didn’t book the panelists, we didn’t add the debates to our schedule.”

Republican Steven R. Helling of Casper is challenging Hageman for the state’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. There are two Republican challengers for Barrasso’s U.S. Senate seat — Reid Rasner of Mills and John Holtz of Laramie — but Peck said there were doubts that either candidate would show up. Ultimately, Wyoming PBS “chose not to move forward with the plans.”

Barrasso gave no reason for declining the invitation, Peck said. Hageman campaign adviser Tim Murtaugh did not give WTE or Wyoming PBS a direct reason for declining the debate. Instead, he said in an emailed statement that Hageman plans to follow through on her promise to hold town hall meetings in every county in Wyoming “to engage directly with citizens.”

“She has essentially driven over 15,000 miles in the last six months,” Murtaugh said in the email. “Rep. Hageman has a track record of fighting for conservative values ​​in Wyoming and putting Wyoming and America first. She believes that direct interaction with voters is the best way for candidates to engage, and that voting records remain the best measure of a candidate.”

Helling and Rasner were told last week that the debate had been cancelled and neither were happy about it.

In a press release issued Saturday, Rasner criticized Barrasso for refusing to participate in the debate, calling it “cowardice, contempt and abandonment of the people of Wyoming.”

“From a Wyomingite’s perspective, I know how upsetting it is to hear a state-funded, supposedly nonpartisan news source cancel one of the few opportunities people have to hear each candidate discuss and argue the issues,” Rasner said in the release. “The people deserve better.”

Helling formally announced his campaign for Congress on Monday, a week after Wyoming PBS told him his debate had been canceled. He said in the campaign announcement that he was disappointed when Hageman declined to debate him, much as she declined to debate her Democratic opponent, Lynnette Gray Bull, in 2022.

“I want to give voters a choice in the upcoming elections,” Helling said in the press release. “I think debates are important to voters. Apparently, Ms. Hageman does not.”

Peck said all candidates have been informed that Wyoming PBS plans to host a general election debate later this year, likely in early October. Scott D. Morrow of Laramie is the only Democrat running for Barrasso’s Senate seat, while Kyle G. Cameron of Cheyenne is the only Democrat running against Hageman for the House.

There’s no guarantee the incumbents will appear, however. Peck said Hageman declined to participate in the network’s 2022 general election debate, where she was scheduled to face Grey Bull, though she did participate in that year’s primary debate against former Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

Barrasso’s campaign team did not respond to the WTE’s inquiry on Monday.