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McConnell, McGrath jockey over debates in Senate race

Bruce Schreiner
Associated Press

Louisville, Ky. – Jockeying over a debate schedule continues in the hard-hitting Kentucky Senate race pitting Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against Democratic challenger Amy McGrath.

Voters have yet to compare the rivals in a give-and-take at the same event but have already been bombarded with TV ads from both campaigns leading up to the November election.

McConnell accepted an offer to participate in a forum next Monday hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau, but McGrath turned down the invitation. Both candidates have laid out contrasting debate plans in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many traditional campaign events.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and US Senate candidate Amy McGrath.

McGrath says she wants three debates with McConnell that also would include the Libertarian candidate, Brad Barron. McConnell has accepted one televised debate with McGrath only.

Both campaigns are using the jockeying over face-offs to take digs at each other.

McGrath’s decision to skip the Farm Bureau forum was characterized as a “snub” of Kentucky farmers on Wednesday by McConnell campaign spokeswoman Kate Cooksey. Cooksey said McGrath is backed by coastal Democrats who “couldn’t find plowed ground if their lives depended upon it.”

McGrath spokesman Terry Sebastian said the timing of the Farm Bureau event “did not work for Amy’s schedule.” Sebastian said the Republican senator has “a lot of explaining to do,” accusing McConnell of putting corporate interests over those of Kentucky’s family farms.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney said he’s disappointed that McGrath turned down the invitation. “As the voice of agriculture across the state, Kentucky Farm Bureau believes it is important that our members hear directly from the candidates,” he said.

McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, recently accepted an invitation from Gray Television’s Kentucky-based stations to debate McGrath.

McGrath has agreed to participate in debates/forums hosted by WDRB-TV and Kentucky Educational Television and is working to finalize a third debate, her campaign said.

McConnell has been invited to attend the WDRB and KET events.

Barron accepted invitations to participate in both events, saying in a twitter post: “Voters deserve to hear from all the candidates, it doesn’t automatically belong to one person.”

The coronavirus kept McConnell and McGrath from facing off earlier this month at the annual Fancy Farm picnic, which traditionally kicks off fall campaigning in Kentucky. They would have shared the stage at the western Kentucky event, which features political stump speeches before raucous partisans. But the speeches were canceled this year because of the pandemic.

Polling has consistently shown McConnell leading McGrath, who is a retired Marine combat pilot.