GOP Senate candidate Alan Keyes premiered a television ad yesterday that accuses the incumbent of snubbing most Baltimore voters by refusing to debate him on one of the city's commercial TV stations, agreeing only to a forum for "the mostly white Maryland Public TV audience."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski will debate Mr. Keyes Oct. 19 on Maryland Public Television, which broadcasts over a network of stations around the state. Negotiations are under way for TC second debate on a Washington commercial station.
But Mr. Keyes has called for more televised debates. At a news conference in the offices of his Baltimore County media firm yesterday, he complained about MPT's low ratings, particularly among black voters.
The statewide network, he said, has "a very restricted, elite audience," with ratings showing it reaches only 4 percent of the homes in Baltimore. Nationwide studies, he said, indicate only about 1 percent of blacks watch public television.
But the Democratic senator's supporters said it's the debate itself, not the channel that matters.
"The bottom line is that Senator Mikulski is debating Alan Keyes in the Baltimore media market," said John C. Steele, a Mikulski spokesman. "Anyone who wants to tune into the debate, to watch the debate, can do so by tuning in Maryland Public Television."
He said Senator Mikulski chose MPT because the network is working with the League of Women Voters, and the incumbent "has, historically, always debated under League of Women Voters sponsorship."
Michael Styer, an MPT spokesman, said studies show public TV viewers come from all levels of society.
"That is just one of those myths, that public television is watched only by rich suburban people," he said, noting studies sponsored by the Public Broadcasting System show that about the same percentages of blacks and whites watch its programs.
Mr. Keyes' 30-second commercial, by the Robert Goodman Agency, features five people -- three white and two black -- interviewed at the Inner Harbor or in city neighborhoods.
All in the commercial speculate why the incumbent won't agree to a debate on a commercial television station. It ends with a black woman who says: "It just shows she takes us for granted."
Then Mr. Keyes appears. "Your people are waiting, senator," he says.
Mr. Goodman said the commercial would begin running soon during local newscasts.