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PREVIEW: McConnell and Grimes Meet Face to Face in Debate Tonight

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The highly anticipated debate between Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and challenger Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes takes place Monday night on KET at 7:00. 

By all accounts, the race is a close one.  Eastern Kentucky University Department of Government Professor Joe Gershtenson says the appearance  provides a setting where a political misstep can occur.  

"It opens up opportunities for slips that perhaps in the day to day campaign when you're working from a very tightly scripted message and only fielding questions that maybe you want to, it's a little bit more controlled setting," said Gershtenson.

Gershtenson says the face to face meeting could be a stressful situation for both candidates.  "When they are actually head to head like that, facing one another, the stakes are fairly high and with the attention that this race is getting, a number of people will see the debate firsthand in terms of Kentucky voters," added Gershtenson.

Longtime Political Analyst and Journalist Al Cross spoke with Kentucky Public Radio member station WFPL about what the two candidates need to do tonight. 

Cross said he believes Grimes has the most at stake. Voters aren't as familiar with her as they are with McConnell, and she also took criticism recently for refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama.

"She needs to be comfortable, articulate, personable—she needs to inspire confidence," Cross said. "That's what any person seeking high public office needs to do, inspire confidence And the last week or so, she's not done much of that."

Cross said he believes McConnell is leading the race at the moment. The senator's task, then, will be to "avoid gaffes, avoid damage and try to keep her on the defensive."

A third candidate in the race, Libertarian David Patterson filed a suit challenging KET's decision to exclude him from the debate.  U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove denied Patterson's request, ruling that KET is not required to include him in the hour long broadcast.   Listen the debate tonight on WKMS at 7:00.  ?

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