The first gathering of the major candidates for New Hampshire governor is scheduled for this Thursday, when the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) hosts a forum at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

According to the NFIB, “Three of the four leading candidates for governor have confirmed their participation:

■ Kelly Ayotte (Republican), former U.S. Senator and State Attorney General
■ Chuck Morse (Republican), former State Senate President and State Representative
■ Cinde Warmington (Democrat), State Executive Councilor, 2nd District, and attorney

Notably absent: Joyce Craig (Democrat), former Mayor of Manchester who, the NFIB said, “was also invited to participate” but will be a no show.

The Craig campaign claims it can’t make the 8:00-9:30 a.m. event — despite having two months’ notice.

Bruce Berke, NFIB’s state director in New Hampshire, will moderate. He says topics will include taxes, regulations, healthcare, and economic development, “among other pressing issues for Main Street businesses and communities.”

Asked about Craig declining to participate, Berke told NHJournal it’s not too late.

“While disappointed to date, we’re willing to make room if she says yes. We host this event when there is an open seat for governor and NFIB enjoyed hosting Govs. Hassan and Sununu in 2012 and 2016, respectively,” Berke said.

Disappointed, perhaps, but few political observers are surprised. Craig has spent more of the Democratic primary thus far avoiding campaign events where she might encounter the press or be forced to answer questions. Warmington called her out over it during a radio interview earlier this month.

“I think that voters need to hear from both candidates. And right now I seem to be the only candidate in this race that’s willing to speak to voters anytime, anywhere,” Warmington said on WGIR. She also repeated her desire to debate her opponent, former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig.

Warmington’s campaign followed up with a press release reiterating its message that “her primary opponent refused to join” her on the air.

“Warmington has been conducting regular interviews with media outlets across the state, from TV to radio to print and online, while her opponents rarely speak with outlets, denying voters the chance to hear how they would govern New Hampshire,” the campaign claimed.

The Craig campaign begged off, claiming it had a scheduling conflict that is keeping.

Former U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes (D) told NHJournal he believes the former Manchester mayor is missing an opportunity.

“I’m a strong supporter of Cinde Warmington in the governor’s race. That said, the Democratic primary for governor has been, and will continue to be, hard-fought between two accomplished candidates. New Hampshire voters deserve to hear from both candidates.

“Small business is big business in the Granite State, so it’s puzzling that Joyce Craig won’t appear for a head-to-head matchup with Cinde at the NFIB forum. It’s a missed campaign opportunity for sure,” Hodes said.