Centre College wants to host the first debate between Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The university announced Thursday that it’s partnering with AARP Kentucky and Louisville TV station WAVE-3 News to present a debate on Sept 3.
Though the stage is set, it’s unclear if the candidates will be there.
The McConnell and Grimes campaigns have been unable to come to an agreement on any debates, instead jousting through the media over locations or format.
Located in Danville, Ky., Centre has gained national attention for hosting two vice presidential debates on its campus with the most recent being during the 2012 election.
University officials tell WFPL because Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race is considered the most consequential election in the country this fall it’s important for voters to hear from the candidates directly.
“It’s very important we get beyond the soundbytes and the carefully crafted news releases,” said Richard Trollinger, vice president of college relations.
“Kentuckians need to hear from the candidates. We don’t just need to hear just from their staffs. And this is an opportunity for them to in a controlled, professionally run event to speak to the issues.”
McConnell issued the first challenge for a debate with Grimes two months ago when he asked for a Lincoln-Douglass styled debate series. He stipulated the first should take place in early June and without an audience, moderator, and questioners other than the candidates themselves.
Grimes said she was eager to debate the senator, but she wanted a format to include an audience and to take place after Labor Day to receive more attention.
Since then the two have committed to different debates. McConnell has agreed to an August 20 forum hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau. Grimes has accepted an October 13 invitation from Kentucky Education Television.
The guidelines Centre officials outlined appear to favor Grimes’ debate proposal. It would take place closer to Election Day, which she wanted. It will also include an audience at Newlin Hall.
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore did not commit to the Centre offer, but noted the university is nationally recognized for its past political forums.
“Sen. McConnell greatly appreciates Centre College’s interest in hosting a debate,” she said. “Centre has an outstanding reputation for hosting world-class debates and we look forward to reviewing their proposal.”
In 2000, Centre hosted vice presidential candidates Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney debated. More recently, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan took each other on at the 2012 debate.
Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst didn’t indicate if they agreed to Centre’s terms, but said in a statement they greatly appreciate the invitation.
“We continue to stand ready and committed to debating Mitch McConnell,” he said. “As we have outlined, we welcome the opportunity to debate in all corners of the Commonwealth and believe all Kentuckians should be able to participate in the process.”
Hurst also took another swipe at the GOP leader for failing to make any debate concessions.
“Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell thinks he owns this Senate seat and hasn’t found the time to respond to our letter or sit down and negotiate with our campaign,” he said.
Centre is open to negotiate certain rules and dates for the debate, said Trollinger. He believes their national prestige, however, will coerce Grimes and McConnell to stop the brinksmanship and give the voters what they want.
“I hope it’s a pleasant pressure,” he Trollinger. “But yes, I do hope that the opportunity to debate in this setting presses them to come together and agree to a debate.”
Centre said it expects a response from the Grimes and McConnell campaign by August 1.