GOP senators are refusing to debate as polls show their challengers surging

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Republicans are backing out of debates in a last-ditch effort to save their seats.

More Republican candidates are backing out of debates ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as polling shows Democrats gaining ground up and down the ballot.

In the presidential election, Donald Trump's positive COVID-19 diagnosis has all but ensured an end to future debates with former Vice President Joe Biden. On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates canceled the second debate, which was scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami. Trump has refused to agree to safety precautions required for an in-person debate, while also also refusing to take part in a virtual debate.

"I’m not gonna waste my time in a virtual debate," Trump told Fox Business last week. "That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind the computer and do a debate, ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want."

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The third and final presidential debate — scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee — is still on for now. But that could change quickly if the Biden and Trump campaigns can't reach an agreement about the format of the event.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has taken a page from Trump's playbook in the race against his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath. In a stunning move, McConnell has refused to release his own coronavirus test results ahead of his debate against McGrath, which is scheduled for Monday night in Lexington, Kentucky. It is the first and only debate between the two Senate candidates.

"I'm unaware where Amy McGrath went to medical school, but I take my health care advice from my doctor, not my political opponent," McConnell said in a statement. "At the end of the campaign season, it’s imperative for all of us to tune out erratic and uninformed campaign rhetoric and make health care decisions for ourselves based on CDC guidance and our health care professionals."

Recent polls have shown the race tightening in McGrath's favor, and she is now within striking distance of McConnell, who is perhaps the Trump administration's most powerful ally outside the White House.

Trump and McConnell aren't the only Republican candidates showing signs of stage fright. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has decided to skip out on his second debate against Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison. Like McConnell, Graham has refused to say whether he has tested positive for the coronavirus — a move which forced Harrison to bring his own plexiglass barrier to their Oct. 3 debate.

After Graham refused to get tested ahead of last Friday's scheduled debate, the event was scrapped in favor of separate interviews with the two candidates. The latest poll shows Harrison up by one point, in a race that has turned from solid red to a toss up over the course of a few short months.

In West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) has flatly refused to debate her Democratic opponent, Paula Jean Swearengin. The move led actor Mark Ruffalo to ask Capito on Twitter why she won't debate Swearengin. As of yet, Ruffalo's question has remained unanswered.

And in Mississippi, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) walked back a previous offer to debate former Rep. Mike Espy (D-MS), the newly viable Democratic challenger who represented Mississippi in Congress for six years before serving as Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton.

"We are in the middle of a campaign. We have 27 days left. The last thing I'm worried about is a debate," Hyde-Smith told WJTV on Thursday.

Hyde-Smith added: "There is just such stark differences, so why would such stark differences, so much emphasis being put on a debate — if it was, if we were so close and people really wanted to hear, Mike Espy would be the most liberal candidate we’ve ever had in Mississippi. I’m a proven conservative, so, you know, I don’t think a lot of minds would be changed."

With Democrats climbing in the polls, Republicans have every reason to hide from the debate stage. On Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) warned of a potential landslide loss for Republicans in November.

"I think it could be a terrible election. I think we could lose the White House and both houses of Congress," Cruz told CNBC. "It could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.