FLINT, MI – Three of four Democratic candidates for governor did not attend a debate-style forum that they were expected to participate in Tuesday, May 1.

An event description on Baker College’s website advertised that Democrats Shri Thanedar, Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed, and Bill Cobbs would face off at the forum; of the four, only Cobbs was present.

Thanedar notified the event organizers that he would be cancelling his appearance just hours before the event started, while a spokesman for Whitmer’s campaign says that they declined the invitation to participate in March. El-Sayed’s campaign could not be reached for comment.

“I’d like to start out by telling Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Shri Thanedar, and Gretchen Whitmer that I really appreciate them giving me this opportunity,” Cobbs said in his closing remarks.

The lack of candidate participation led to changes in the format of the forum; limits that had been applied to the length of answers were dropped, and a segment where each candidate would ask a question of their opponents was replaced with questions from the community.

“I was concerned about making sure that there was equal time,” said Tom Sumner, who organized the event on behalf of his radio show, The Tom Sumner Program, “but to get equal time you have to show up.”

Recent polling from the Detroit Regional Chamber places Thanedar as the front-runner in the Democratic primary, leading Whitmer 29.6 percent to 26.3 percent. El-Sayed polled at 6.6 percent, while Cobbs, who has decided to run a write-in campaign after he did not collect enough signatures to make the ballot in August, received support from 2.5 percent of the surveyed voters.

Independent and third party gubernatorial candidates faced off in the first of three forums Monday. Republican candidates for governor Brian Calley, Patrick Colbeck, Jim Hines, and Evan Space are expected to participate in the final forum tomorrow from 3 pm – 6 pm at Baker College of Flint. Bill Schuette, the Republican front-runner, will not attend.

Michigan Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians will vote to choose their nominees on Aug. 7.

Update, May 3, 2018: A spokesman for the El-Sayed campaign says that they declined the invitation to participate due to a scheduling conflict.

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...