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Grimes yet to officially respond to McConnell debate challenge

by Joe Arnold


Posted on May 27, 2014 at 9:29 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 27 at 10:01 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has yet to officially respond to a debate challenge by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, both campaigns confirmed on Tuesday, six days after McConnell proposed a series of three debates.

McConnell will only agree to debate Grimes if she agrees to several main conditions, that neither candidate use notes or props and that the questions be generated by the candidates to each other, rather than from a media panel, a McConnell campaign official confirmed.  A moderator would serve only as a timekeeper. 

"I hope we'll have debates," McConnell said.  "And if we do, that is the way we will have them."

Though McConnell's proposal also stipulated that the debate include no audience, a campaign official suggested some flexibility on that condition.

The Grimes campaign reiterated its earlier statement on the matter, accusing McConnell of playing games on the debate proposal, explaining that Grimes "welcomed the opportunity to debate McConnell and our campaign stands ready to discuss details."

"Debates are the only non-scripted, non-required opportunity for the candidates and the public to see each other," said Dorothy "Dot" Ridings, a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates.  Neither the commission or Ridings have a role in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.

Ridings served as President of the League of Women Voters for four years in the 1980's and was front and center at national debates, including the 1984 debate in Louisville between President Ronald Reagan and former Vice-President Walter Mondale.

Now thirty years later, the St. Matthews resident expressed hope that McConnell and Grimes submit themselves to similar scrutiny.

"They don't know what the questions are in advance," Ridings said.  "They would have no opportunity to prepare those sound bites. And the questions are not of their choosing - they can be whatever the moderator, of if there is a panel chooses to ask."

Ridings expressed doubt that a true "Lincoln-Douglas" style debate, as McConnell has described his proposal, would keep the attention of a television audience because such debates involve lengthy expositions of each candidate's positions.

McConnell's description of debates in his challenge to Grimes resemble typical debates with the exception of no outside questions from the public or journalists.

"I appreciate and recognize your role in all of this," McConnell said to reporters on Friday, "but I don't think we ought to have a joint press conference.  We ought to have a debate between the two of us - we each ask questions of the other, we have a reasonable amount of time to reply and then a rebuttal supervised by an objective sort of timekeeper."

McConnell immediately agreed to a June 21 debate offered by WDRB-TV in Louisville which meets all of McConnell's conditions.  Grimes has not said whether she plans to attend.  FCC regulations prohibit a broadcast station to televise a debate in a federal race unless at least two candidates appear.

In recent months, WHAS-TV has extended debate invitations to representatives of both the Grimes and McConnell campaigns, yet has not publicized the debate invitations until now.

Kentucky Educational Television published an open letter to both Grimes and McConnell also inviting them to participate on statewide, public television.