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McConnell, McGrath Call For ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ Debates

Amy McGrath via Facebook, Official Headshot

Amy McGrath has accepted Mitch McConnell’s challenge to hold “Lincoln-Douglas style” debates ahead of Kentucky’s election for U.S. Senate this year.

McConnell sent McGrath a letter on Wednesday calling for a “socially distanced, Lincoln-Douglas style debate” without notes, props or an audience.

“While the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we campaign in 2020, it is my view that any plans to hold in-person debates between the two of us should not be impacted,” McConnell wrote.

“Before casting their ballots this November, Kentuckians deserve the opportunity to compare us side-by-side as we share our competing visions for Kentucky’s long-term prosperity.”

McConnell, a Republican is running for his seventh term in the U.S. Senate, though this is the first time he’s running for reelection as the chamber’s majority leader. McGrath, a Democrat, is a retired Marine fighter pilot who ran unsuccessfully for Kentucky’s 6th congressional district in 2018.

On Thursday, McGrath replied, calling for three debates to be held in different regions of the state and for libertarian candidate Brad Barron to be invited.

“I welcome debating you face-to-face to ensure Kentuckians can hear real solutions for the crisis ahead,” McGrath wrote.

In the letter, she referenced a letter she wrote as a teenager to McConnell, calling on him to lift the ban on women serving in military combat roles.

“Thank you for finally writing back after 32 years. You may have heard we got the law changed so women could fly in combat, and I made it into the cockpit of a fighter jet. I hear they are even letting women serve in the Senate these days,” McGrath wrote.

McGrath also suggested topics for the debates — that one should be about health care and another about the economic crisis in the country.

The “Lincoln-Douglas debates” refer to a series of seven debates held between Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Stephen Douglas during the Illinois U.S. Senate race in 1858.

The Lincoln-Douglas style refers to a structured form of debating, without a moderator, normally used in high school and college competitions that looks very different from conventional political debating.

McConnell has already agreed to participate in two debates — one hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau, the other hosted by Gray Television, which owns WKYT in Lexington, WAVE 3 in Louisville and WYMT in Eastern Kentucky. McGrath hasn’t responded to those invites yet.

Kate Cooksey, McConnell’s campaign spokesperson, encouraged McGrath to reply.

“Kentuckians are much more interested in hearing from each candidate about the issues than an ongoing argument about the terms which make Amy McGrath comfortable enough to show up,” Cooksey wrote in a statement.

In 2014, McConnell challenged his Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to a Lincoln-Douglas style debate; it never took place.

In 2008, McConnell and Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford participated in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate in Northern Kentucky.

Candidates also traditionally participate in a debate broadcast on KET ahead of the election. McConnell, McGrath and Barron have all already qualified for that debate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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