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McConnell, Grimes agree to different debates

  • Associated Press
  • Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at 2:34 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at 4:33 p.m.

— Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes have agreed to debates - just not at the same place.

On Tuesday, McConnell accepted an invitation to a candidate forum sponsored by the Kentucky Farm Bureau on Aug. 20. Grimes, meanwhile, has accepted an invitation to an Oct. 13 debate that would air on Kentucky Educational Television.

But the candidates have yet to agree to a debate they would both attend.

"Senator McConnell never misses an opportunity to discuss the issues with Kentucky farmers," McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said, adding that the campaign hopes Grimes, too, will accept the invitation to the Farm Bureau forum.

Moore declined to comment on the Oct. 13 KET debate. And Grimes' campaign manager did not comment about the Farm Bureau forum. But he did criticize McConnell for not accepting the KET debate invitation.

"We continue to stand ready to debate and await Mitch McConnell's long delayed decision to accept our offer to attend the KET debate," Jonathan Hurst said in an email to The Associated Press.

In one of the closest and most-watched Senate races in the country, both sides have had ample opportunities to debate, fielding debate requests from national and local groups and news media outlets.

The day after winning the Republican nomination, McConnell asked Grimes to commit to three debates - all before Labor Day - with no live audience. He said the debates should happen before the election is dominated by TV ads from both sides. Louisville TV station WDRB quickly agreed to host the first debate on June 21, and McConnell accepted.

But Grimes declined and said she wanted a live audience to give Kentuckians a chance to ask questions. She also said the debates should be in September or October, when more people are paying attention to the election.

The Kentucky Farm Bureau forum is not an official debate, but it would put the candidates in front of an audience at the same time answering the same questions from the bureau's board of directors. Each candidate would also make an opening and a closing statement.

Jeff Harper, the bureau's director of public affairs, said the forum was originally scheduled to coincide with the bureau's board meeting at the end of July. But the board changed the date to Aug. 20 because the forum would have been on a day the U.S. Senate was in session. Harper said the bureau has invited Grimes to attend and is working with her campaign to schedule her appearance.

The Farm Bureau has more than 470,000 member families across Kentucky. Most people know it as an insurance provider, but it also advocates for farming issues. It hosts forums like this for every governor and U.S. Senate election, according to Joe Cain, director of the bureau's commodity division.

"We have a reputation of being a very fair and open forum, not favoring one candidate over the other, and we try very hard to keep it that way," Cain said. "We want both candidates to feel good about the forum and to let the voters decide."

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