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2010 Senate races: Four key debates this week could be game-changers

Many voters don't tune into the campaigns until debate season, which this week includes clashes in four 2010 Senate races: Connecticut, Florida, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

By Staff Writer / October 4, 2010

On Monday night, the Connecticut Senate debate between state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) and former TV wrestling CEO Linda McMahon (R) promises to be hot.

Jessica Hill/AP

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Washington

It’s debate season, and for Senate and gubernatorial candidates, these televised duels can make or break election prospects heading into the Nov. 2 vote.

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Take California. On Saturday, Republican nominee for governor Meg Whitman faced tough questions about her former housekeeper, an undocumented worker from Mexico, handing Democratic nominee Jerry Brown an opening. The issue could have particular impact on the crucial Latino vote.

Also last weekend, Kentucky’s Senate candidates, Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway, sparred on Fox News Sunday. The debate may not have had the sharp focus of the California debate, but it still could have swayed votes. Mr. Paul, a first-time candidate with "tea party" backing and strong libertarian leanings, portrayed himself as a loyal Republican. Mr. Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, tried to distance himself from President Obama.

On Monday night, the Connecticut cage match, er, Senate contest between state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) and former TV wrestling CEO Linda McMahon (R) also promises to be hot. Ms. McMahon released a new ad Monday attacking Mr. Blumenthal’s misrepresentations of his military record. McMahon, for her part, is sure to face questions about the seamy world of simulated TV wrestling.

With less than a month to go before Election Day, debates can be game-changers – particularly in tight races, which all three of those are. Some voters don’t really pay attention to the campaign until the debates, and a gaffe can be devastating. Elements less decisive than a gaffe – perceptions about level of knowledge and energy or even a stray glance by a candidate at his watch – can always sway votes.

Debates also represent opportunities for candidates who have stumbled out of the gate after winning their primary. Paul of Kentucky surged on the back of tea party energy to win his party’s nomination in May, then proceeded to put his foot in his mouth on national television when he questioned the necessity of civil rights laws. On Sunday, Paul seemed more polished and prepared, putting Republicans at ease over his candidacy – especially when he said he would back Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky for the top GOP slot in the Senate.

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