Alison Lundergan Grimes Raises Stakes on Senate Debates

Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to debate Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell across Kentucky, and before an audience.

Grimes outlined her criteria for debates—and accepted McConnell’s challenge for a possible debate series—in a letter sent Thursday to the Republican Senate leader.

Last month, McConnell issued a challenge to Grimes for a number of “Lincoln-Douglas” style debates, with the first taking place before July 4.

McConnell said the forums should have no audience, no notes and be moderated by a single host. McConnell’s campaign quickly accepted an offer for a June 21 debate at Louisville TV station WDRB.

Unlike McConnell, Grimes said she wants the debates to have an audience, and for them to take place after Labor Day—at the height of the race.

“While I agree that our debates should begin, I do not agree that none should take place in the fall,” she wrote in the letter. “In the two months leading up to the election, there is no more important time for the people of Kentucky to understand what’s at stake.

“Our debates also should not be 90-minute filibuster sessions. Kentuckians have had enough of that—they deserve the chance to participate and ask questions.”

Grimes also suggested that hosts or moderators not have endorsed either candidate or served as a surrogate for their campaigns. The suggestion is an indirect swipe at WDRB’s general manager, Bill Lamb, who publicly endorsed McConnell in an editorial earlier this year.

McConnell’s spokeswoman confirmed the campaign received the Grimes letter this morning. After receiving the letter, the senator’s aides suggested that the Democratic nominee is ducking the initial offer in order to better prepare.

From Team Mitch senior adviser Josh Holmes:

“Virtually every Senate challenger in U.S. would jump at any opportunity to debate if incumbent provided it,” Holmes added. “Not @AlisonForKY.”

In the campaign letter, Grimes said she has accepted a debate invitation from Kentucky Educational Television. She also reminded the McConnell’s team they have attended those forums in previous campaigns.

She also requested the debates be held in different regions of the state, and urged McConnell to sign a pledge to bar spending from outside groups.

“It is my hope that this U.S. Senate race will be respectful and uncluttered, so I further call on you to sign a ‘People’s Pledge’ to ask all outside groups to cease spending in the Commonwealth and allow the campaigns to deliver their messages to Kentuckians unvarnished. I would, of course, take similar action,” said Grimes.

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