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Susan Collins proposes 16 debates against challenger Gideon

Susan Collins proposes 16 debates against challenger Gideon
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhoopi Goldberg blasts Republicans not speaking against Trump: 'This is an attempted coup' Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters MORE (R-Maine) challenged Sara Gideon, her Democratic opponent, to a series of 16 debates, setting out an ambitious plan in one of the most closely-watched Senate races in the country.

Collins sent Gideon, the speaker in the Maine state House, a letter congratulating her on her Tuesday victory in the Democratic primary and suggesting they have their first debate Wednesday night. 

“I want to congratulate you on becoming the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, and welcome you to the campaign. Earlier today, your campaign spokesperson distributed a press release calling for five debates,” Collins wrote. 

“While I share the sentiment outlined in your press release that Mainers deserve the opportunity to compare us directly before they decide how they'll vote, I believe five debates is far too limited a schedule for such an important race," she continued. "To that end, I propose that we have 16 live, televised, in-person debates, one in each of Maine's counties. Let’s have the first one tonight.” 

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The challenge, if accepted, would put in place a breakneck debate schedule between mid-July and the Nov. 3 general election, which Democrats view as a top flip opportunity as they try to take the Senate majority.

Collins’s letter came hours after Gideon proposed holding five debates to give Mainers a chance to see the “contrast” between her and the incumbent.

“While Sara has traveled across the state holding 'Suppers with Sara' and roundtables to answer questions from Mainers whose support she’s worked to earn, Senator Collins continues to avoid tough questions about her record of support for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE and special interests,” Maeve Coyle, Gideon’s communications director, said earlier Tuesday.

Gideon said she was "pleased" that the two campaigns are deciding on a debate schedule, noting that the schedule Collins proposed would include several more debates than the five she's typically done in previous cycles.

"I'm looking forward to sharing the stage with Senator Collins, that's why we were the first to propose debates this morning at the start of the general election," Gideon said in a statement to The Hill. "Over the past year, I've traveled across the state to hold open forums and answer questions from Mainers in all 16 counties – something Senate Collins hasn't done since she was elected 24 years ago.

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"It's important for Mainers to have the opportunity to hear our different visions for how Maine's senator should be working for Maine people," she added, "and I'm pleased that we've begun the process of scheduling debates."

Gideon’s victory in the Tuesday primary delivered the nomination for the Democratic Party’s preferred candidate in a race The Cook Political Report rates as a “toss up.”

Democrats are eager to hit Collins over her votes for the GOP’s tax plan and her controversial decision to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins MORE and are confident that Gideon, who has proven to be a strong fundraiser, will give her a tough challenge. However, the four-term lawmaker is no political slouch, working hard to burnish a reputation as an independent-minded Republican and retaining high name-recognition in the state, a possible obstacle to attempts to label her.