LOUISVILLE — Democrat Bruce Lunsford has accepted offers for a series of debates against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell that would turn into a road show across Kentucky late in the campaign.
The Louisville businessman's campaign said Monday he has accepted invitations to eight debates, including a flurry of face-offs in late October and even on the last weekend before the Nov. 4 election.
McConnell, a four-term incumbent, and Lunsford are scheduled to meet in an old-fashioned debate in Northern Kentucky this Saturday. The event, hosted by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, is billed as a "Lincoln/Douglas-style" debate in which the two candidates will ask each other the questions.
McConnell's campaign on Monday was non-committal about future debates, other than to say the senator was looking forward to Saturday's event. McConnell campaign manager Justin Brasell said recently the campaign is evaluating other debate offers to see if the events would fit into the senator's schedule.
The other debates Lunsford accepted would stretch from one end of Kentucky to the other, including four over seven days in late October.
"The people of Kentucky deserve a chance to see the differences between Bruce Lunsford and Mitch McConnell," said Lunsford campaign spokesman Cary Stemle.
Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, said it's to Lunsford's benefit to accept numerous debates, but such a packed schedule would carry more risk for McConnell.
If McConnell refuses more debates, Lunsford could try to turn it into a campaign issue, Voss said.
"McConnell has to worry that refusing to debate would play into this out-of-touch image that his party as a whole suffers right now," said Voss, who specializes in elections and voter behavior.
But such attacks might be countered by McConnell's high profile in the GOP and Congress.
Voss said Senate debate audiences are "fairly limited," but any serious gaffe by a candidate tends to "trickle down" to casual observers.
McConnell, the top-ranking Senate Republican, is in his toughest re-election fight in years.
McConnell and Lunsford have faced off twice this summer, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic and later before a Kentucky Farm Bureau audience. McConnell ignored Lunsford in his Fancy Farm speech, saving his criticism for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
So far, the two rivals have been hammering away at each other in a series of TV ads.