LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, will meet for a high-profile debate on statewide television about three weeks before Kentucky voters decide one of the nation's most closely watched campaigns.
McConnell agreed Monday to the Oct. 13 appearance with Grimes on Kentucky Educational Television, said KET Executive Director and CEO, Shae Hopkins. Grimes, who is Kentucky's secretary of state, accepted the offer a couple of months ago.
The candidates will appear on the Kentucky Tonight show hosted by Bill Goodman.
"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 Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton.
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said the five-term senator "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."
Both candidates have said they want to debate and are scheduled to attend a candidate forum later this week hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau.
The campaigns continued to pound away at their main themes in previewing their joint appearances, with McConnell portraying Grimes as an ally of President Barack Obama, and Grimes' campaign referring to the Republican senator as a partisan obstructionist.
"There is a large contrast between Sen. McConnell's Kentucky leadership and Secretary Grimes' support for the Obama agenda, and we're eager to have that discussion with Kentucky voters," Moore said.
McConnell has said no state has fared worse from the president's policies than Kentucky.
Grimes' campaign countered that McConnell sides with "Washington special interests" at the expense of Kentucky families.
"It is time for Mitch McConnell to answer for his failed Washington record," Norton said.
Kentucky voters have been hit with a barrage of mostly negative campaign ads that will intensify in the weeks leading up to the November election, but they've had few chances to see McConnell and Grimes square off at the same events.
The candidates shared the stage, but did not debate, at the past two Fancy Farm picnics in far western Kentucky, where sign-waving, chanting partisans from both sides spiced up the speeches. The two rivals are scheduled to appear at a forum sponsored by Kentucky Farm Bureau this Wednesday in Louisville.
University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said Monday that by Oct. 13, most viewers watching the McConnell-Grimes appearance on KET will have made up their minds. For those partisans, it will be like watching a sporting match where they're rooting for one side, he said.
But a joint appearance so late in the campaign could make a difference if the race remains tight and "somebody wins definitively," which could influence undecided voters, he said.