McConnell challenges McGrath to socially distanced debate

Republican Mitch McConnell has laid down a debate challenge to his Democratic opponent in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Republican Mitch McConnell laid down a challenge Wednesday to his Democratic opponent in Kentucky — a socially distanced debate with no notes on statewide television.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader who is seeking a seventh term in the November election, issued the debate challenge in a letter to Democrat Amy McGrath's campaign.

“This would be a debate just between the two of us," McConnell wrote. “No notes at the table, no props and no audience. Kentuckians deserve clear answers from each of us on the issues that matter most, and this is the best format to deliver those answers."

McGrath fired back with a tweet aimed at McConnell's campaign, saying: “We’re eager to hold your boss accountable for his 36 years of failed leadership."

McGrath's campaign was preparing a letter to respond more fully to McConnell's challenge. Her campaign did not indicate whether she would accept his terms.

Typically, it's challengers who initiate the push for debates with incumbents to raise their profile. Polls have consistently shown McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, trailing McConnell in the conservative-leaning state that has trended heavily toward Republicans, especially in federal races.

The coronavirus kept the two rivals 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.

In his letter, McConnell said the virus should not derail a chance for Kentuckians to see them debate. He challenged McGrath to a “socially distanced, Lincoln-Douglas style debate" with a “time-keeping moderator" agreed on by both of them. McConnell said his campaign is ready to work with a Kentucky TV station with statewide reach to put together a debate.

“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.

McConnell and McGrath have pounded each other in a series of TV ads in the big-spending race.