WASHINGTON -- Illinois Senate rivals Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias meet in the first of three debates Sunday morning, in a session on NBC's "Meet the Press" with host David Gregory.
Kirk wanted more debates -- on July 27, he proposed seven debates across the state -- on the theory that when voters saw the two rivals at the same time, Kirk would prevail because voters would see he was smarter and more informed than Giannoulias.
The Giannoulias camp never agreed -- one of Kirk's proposed debates was to be hosted by an ally -- and the Kirk team could only push so far. Accepting or rejecting debates is a matter of campaign strategy. Kirk declined debates in the GOP primary; Giannoulias debated four times with primary challenger David Hoffman.
Kirk and Giannoulias will tape "Meet the Press" here; there is no particular topic, and anything can be on the table.
They meet again Oct. 19 in Chicago in a debate moderated by ABC "Good Morning America" co-host George Stephanopoulos, produced with WLS-Channel 7.
The final matchup is Oct. 27, a debate sponsored by the City Club of Chicago on WTTW-Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight" moderated by host Phil Ponce.
A fourth debate at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus was scratched because Giannoulias objected to including the Green Party candidate, LeAlan Jones -- who could drain votes from him -- while the Libertarian, Mike Labno -- who may take support from Kirk -- was not.
David Yepsen, the director of SIU's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the Green Party is an Illinois official political party -- and Labno is not hitting a 5 percent threshold for inclusion.
Kirk spokesman Kirsten Kukowski said, "It has been 70 days since Congressman Kirk proposed seven debates across the state on wide-ranging topics. It's disappointing that Giannoulias apparently doesn't share Congressman Kirk's desire to discuss the major issues of the day."
Giannoulias spokesman Scott Burnham said, "The debate will demonstrate the stark contrast between a typical Washington politician like Congressman Kirk, who is beholden to special interests and has consistently supported the failed Bush economic policies during the past decade that brought our economy to the brink," and Giannoulias.