There will be at least one opportunity for voters statewide to compare incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell with his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in a side-by-side format.
Kentucky Education Television Executive Director and CEO Shae Hopkins announced Monday afternoon McConnell has accepted an invitation to appear Oct. 13 on Kentucky Tonight with Bill Goodman. Grimes had previously accepted KET’s invitation.
“Today we received word from Sen. McConnell’s campaign that he has accepted our invitation to debate the issues with Secretary Grimes on Kentucky Tonight on Oct. 13, 2014,” Hopkins said in an emailed statement. “KET is proud to be trusted by the candidates and Kentucky’s voters to provide a fair and independent platform in this pivotal U.S. Senate race.”
The two campaigns have jousted over debates — formats, sites, times, hosts — since the May 20 primary when McConnell challenged Grimes to three “Lincoln-Douglas style” debates to be conducted before Labor Day with no live audience, no reporters and no moderator other than a time keeper.
Grimes wouldn’t agree to that format and schedule without negotiating the details. But she repeatedly said she wanted at least some of the debates to feature questions from voters and to take place with an audience and with media coverage.
Nearly every television outlet, Centre College, students at the University of Kentucky, and numerous other organizations have offered to host debates — but except for a “Measure the Candidates Forum” this week at the Kentucky Farm Bureau, the two candidates hadn’t agreed on a joint appearance.
Grimes and McConnell will appear at the KFB forum Wednesday afternoon at the KFB headquarters in Louisville. Under the KFB format, the candidates are provided questions in advance which are then posed to them at the forum by KFB Board members. The questions and issues are almost exclusively limited to agricultural issues.
Kentucky Tonight doesn’t offer a classical debate format either — Goodman poses questions to the candidates in the KET studio and also relays questions from viewers who email questions to the show or call in with questions.
Nevertheless, the forum is generally considered a required appearance by candidates in contested races because of KET’s statewide viewership and reputation for even-handedness.
“Senator McConnell feels very strongly that Kentuckians have the opportunity to evaluate both candidates as they discuss the issues face-to-face rather than an endless stream of television commercials and this debate provides that opportunity,” said McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore.
Then returning to a constant theme of McConnell’s campaign Moore went on to say, “There is a large contrast between Sen. McConnell’s Kentucky leadership and Sec. Grimes’ support for the Obama agenda and we’re eager to have that discussion with Kentucky voters.”
Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton welcomed the announcement that McConnell accepted the KET invitation.
“After months of dragging his feet, our campaign is encouraged that Mitch McConnell finally agrees that Kentuckians deserve the opportunity to hear both candidates’ viewpoints and very different visions for the commonwealth’s future,” said Norton.
Like Moore did, Norton went on to echo campaign themes pushed by Grimes.
“For 30 years, McConnell has sold Kentucky families out and sided with Washington special interests. It is time for Mitch McConnell to answer for his failed Washington record — 30 years is long enough.”
Nearly every publicly released poll has shown the race within the margin of error, some with Grimes slightly ahead and others showing McConnell in the lead. The trend recently has seemed to show McConnell picking up support while Grimes’ support remained steady.
It’s the most watched 2014 mid-term race in the country and spending by the two campaigns and outside issues groups and SuperPACs is expected to top $100 million.