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McConnell set to debate Democratic rival McGrath in Kentucky

Kentucky voters will get their first, and potentially only, chance to see a debate between Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath when they meet Monday evening for a socially distanced encounter.

The hourlong debate will be aired on Gray Television’s Kentucky-based stations. It comes near the end of a big-spending campaign that has been waged in distance, with the two sparring in hard-hitting TV ads. McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, has consistently led in polling.

The rivals will debate at WKYT, and the Lexington station took a number of precautions in response to the coronavirus. Kentucky is in the midst of another spike of COVID-19 cases.

During the debate, only the moderator and candidates will be in the studio, which uses robotic cameras, said WKYT news director Robert Thomas. They will be at least 20 feet (6 meters) from one another, and plexiglass shields will be on the sides of the candidates’ desks, he said.

Previewing the debate, McConnell said last week there will be “no notes, no props, no audience” — just a moderator asking them questions. McGrath has said “it’s important for voters to have the opportunity to hear directly from candidates.” The two have wrangled over debates for weeks.

The debate comes a day before early in-person voting starts across Kentucky ahead of the Nov. 3 election, and as many Kentuckians fill out absentee ballots.

The first in-person showdown was delayed in part by the pandemic and scheduling decisions.

McConnell and McGrath would have squared off at the Fancy Farm picnic in early August, which traditionally kicks off the fall campaign in Kentucky, but the political speeches were canceled this year because of the pandemic. In late August, McConnell attended a forum by the Kentucky Farm Bureau but McGrath skipped the event.

The pandemic disrupted another high-stakes Senate race last week. Hours before a scheduled debate in South Carolina between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, event organizers changed the format to back-to-back, one-on-one interviews.

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