Mitch McConnell challenges Alison Lundergan Grimes to three debates

syoungman@herald-leader.comMay 21, 2014 

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, fresh off his primary win against Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin, is challenging Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes to three debates.

In a letter signed by McConnell, which the Herald-Leader obtained Wednesday morning and the McConnell campaign confirmed would be sent to Grimes, Kentucky's senior senator congratulated his Democratic opponent on winning her party's nomination and challenged her to a series of debates — with several conditions.

"In order to present our views fairly and without interpretation by traditional media filters, I believe we should participate in three traditional Lincoln-Douglas style debates moderated only by a single timekeeper/moderator," McConnell wrote. "By conducting these debates without an audience, without props and without notes, it will allow for an unvarnished exchange of views for Kentuckians to evaluate."

At a campaign stop Wednesday, Grimes said she would welcome the debates with McConnell.

"My team will get with his campaign to work out the details of that, but that's something that I have always been open to," she said. "I look forward to holding him accountable."

McConnell also proposed concluding the debates near Labor Day, before most voters traditionally pay much attention to the fall election.

"I believe that in order to present our views before Kentuckians are inundated with advertising, we should agree to hold the first of these three debates before the Fourth of July," McConnell wrote. "This will allow for our first real exchange of ideas a full calendar year after you announced your candidacy."

McConnell suggested a second debate before the annual Fancy Farm political picnic in early August and a third near Labor Day.

McConnell agreed to have WDRB-TV in Louisville host the first debate, scheduled for June 21. The Grimes campaign has yet to agree to a date, format or host.

Referring to Sunday's Herald-Leader, McConnell wrote that the newspaper's editorial board suggested that "May 21 would not be too early for us to find time to debate, and I agree."

Specifically, the editorial suggested that the candidates begin Wednesday trying "to find time in their fall calendars to debate on Kentucky's public television network."

Neither candidate showed up for the only statewide debates in their primary races, which were aired on KET, but Grimes appeared willing, if not eager, to debate McConnell during an interview Monday on her campaign bus.

"When it comes to debating, it probably will be Mitch McConnell that will be the 'empty dress' and won't show up on the other side," she said, referring to a remark made about her by a National Republican Senatorial Committee staffer last year.

McConnell's 2008 Democratic opponent, Bruce Lunsford, sought to make hay of the debate issue after the senator skipped that year's KET candidate forum and a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

McConnell did debate Lunsford at a Kentucky Farm Bureau forum, a forum sponsored by The Paducah Sun and a Lincoln-Douglas style debate sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Of the debates he skipped, McConnell said at the time that "every one of the people who invited us to debate thought theirs was the most important imaginable."

In this year's Republican primary, Bevin accepted invitations to four debates or forums, but McConnell rejected them all on his way to a lopsided win Tuesday night.

"McConnell's unable to defend his record, and he knows it," Bevin said this year. "I think he's afraid to be seen on stage with me for a variety of reasons. There's a stark difference from a number of perspectives when people both see and hear the two of us articulate why we're in this race and why it matters."

On Wednesday, Grimes kicked off the general election in her own way, releasing a new television ad.

The ad, titled "A Moment," features Grimes talking directly to voters. She hints at her campaign's strategy of painting McConnell as "Senator Gridlock," along with the defense she will need to play to keep from being tied to President Barack Obama's unpopularity.

"I'm running because I believe we need a senator who puts partisanship aside ... and works with both Democrats and Republicans to do what's right for Kentucky and for our country," Grimes said. "And no matter who the president is, I won't answer to them. I'll only answer to you."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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