The campaign to elect Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes to the U.S. Senate called on Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell to “quit playing games” with debates.
In a letter sent a day after the Kentucky primary elections, McConnell suggested holding three Lincoln-Douglass style debates beginning before July 4 to discuss various issues.
But Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst pointed out that his candidate talked about debating McConnell earlier this week.
“Once again Mitch McConnell is behind Alison Lundergan Grimes,” he says. “Days ago, she welcomed the opportunity to debate McConnell and our campaign stands ready to discuss details. He will need all the time in the world to defend a 30-year record of looking out for himself and creating gridlock in Washington.”
On Monday, Grimes told the Lexington Herald-Leader said she’d be willing to take on the senator. When it comes to debates, Grimes said, McConnell “will be the ‘empty dress’ and won’t show up.”
In a telephone interview, McConnell senior adviser Josh Holmes told WFPL the challenge isn’t a stunt.
Rather it is a chance to quiet the campaign noise and get serious about the issues for voters to size up both contenders.
“What we felt like with this format is it enabled the candidates to really dig in and speak very clearly about what they believe,” says Holmes.
“What we want to do is talk about anything that matters to Kentuckians and that’s a broad array of issues from coal, health care, jobs, economy—every single thing that a United States Senator has a responsibility for promoting on behalf of the people of Kentucky is what we assume is going to be a part of this.”
Louisville TV station WDRB offered McConnell a June 21 date to participate in a statewide debate, which his campaign quickly accepted. In February, WDRB General Manager Bill Lamb publicly endorsed McConnell for re-election and it’s unclear if Grimes plans to accept their offer.
Instead Grimes’s campaign made its own challenge that mirrors a precedent set by candidates in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race to discourage outside groups from spending money on the race.
“This campaign is about two very distinct visions for Kentucky’s future: one puts forward bold ideas to put Kentuckians back to work, while the other does not believe it is his responsibility to bring jobs to the Commonwealth,” says Hurst.
“What Kentuckians don’t need are gimmicks and games. If Mitch McConnell truly wants this campaign to be a healthy debate about issues between the candidates, we should also agree to keep outside organizations from flooding Kentucky airwaves with special interest money.”
The Grimes campaign said it plans to send a response letter to McConnell this week.