A day after the Kentucky primary election, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is challenging his Democratic opponent to a series of debates.
McConnell has notoriously avoided statewide debates with his past political opponents, so this eagerness may represent how close and high-profiled the Senate race will be this year.
In May 21 letter to Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell invites her to participate in three traditional Lincoln-Douglas style debates that would be moderated only by a single moderator.
The GOP leader is requesting the first debate be held before July 4.
“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,” says McConnell. “This will allow for our first real exchange of ideas a full calendar year after you announced your candidacy. Kentucky voters will get their fill of campaign ads and scripted events this year but three Lincoln-Douglas style debates will provide an excellent format to evaluate our true views on the issues.”
Read the full letter below:
Polls show this race is a dead heat and it had been suggested by Democrats that McConnell was “scared” to debate Grimes head-to-head. Many observers remarked that Republicans ought to avoid the optics of a young, energetic Grimes contrasted with the 72-year-old incumbent.
But the GOP leader appears ready to break with a tradition of avoiding public forums.
In 2008, McConnell debated Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford twice but neither of those events were televised statewide.
Before that he and Democrat Steve Beshear debated once on Kentucky Educational Television. He participated in a local public forum when he was challenged by former Democratic Louisville mayor Harvey Sloane in 1990.
The Grimes campaign has not responded to our request for comment, but it did release its first TV ad of the fall election.
“This is a frustrating time in our country,” Grimes says directly to voters. “The economy is still struggling, people are working harder for less and here in Kentucky, we feel it more than most.”
“And it seems no matter how many elections we have, nothing gets better in Washington. It only gets worse. A lot of that is because of the people at the top in both political parties. If we keep sending them back, nothing will change.”