Sen. Maria Cantwell has blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a scheduling conflict with a first debate against Susan Hutchison set for Oct. 6 in Tacoma.

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Will she? Won’t she? When might she?

A debate over debates has broken out in the race for Washington’s U.S. Senate seat this fall, with the Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell questioning whether the incumbent is ducking her.

“The bottom line is that there’s no way Maria Cantwell isn’t available to debate on October 6th — a Saturday night — when she’s had two months’ warning,” said Susan Hutchison, Cantwell’s opponent. “We set aside those dates several weeks ago, and we’ve still not gotten agreement from her.”

Cantwell previously has blamed Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a scheduling conflict with a first debate set for Oct. 6 in Tacoma.

McConnell cut the Senate’s August recess, instead scheduling the body to remain in session through much of October.

Last week, Cantwell, who is seeking her fourth six-year term, said she’s committed to participating in at least two debates with Hutchison before the November election but said her campaign is still trying to firm up a date and location for the first one.

“I think they’re trying to find a date that’s bulletproof that we know that we won’t be there [in session in Washington, D.C.] because we don’t control it,” she said. “And so, I think [Oct.] 8th is a federal holiday, and so they’re thinking that that’s a better date. I think that’s where it stands at the moment.”

“Well, that’s news to us,” Hutchison countered in a phone interview last week. “I’m so glad she’s telling The Seattle Times all her schedule and not the [Washington] Debate Coalition.”

On Sept. 6, the nonpartisan coalition announced the dates for the free-to-the-public debates in both the U.S. Senate and 8th Congressional District House races. The coalition set the first debate between Cantwell and Hutchison for 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, with a second debate for 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

The lone debate so far scheduled in the race for the open House seat, pitting Republican Dino Rossi against Democrat Kim Schrier, will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

The coalition’s debate announcement also noted the dates for the Cantwell-Hutchison events remained “pending U.S. Senate scheduling.”

“The date is not confirmed yet,” debate coalition spokesman Everett Lawson said Monday. “We’re still in negotiations with the Cantwell campaign.”

On Friday, the coalition offered Oct. 8 as an alternate date for the first debate to accommodate Cantwell’s schedule, Lawson said. “We’ve not yet heard back,” he added.

Disputes over debates are nothing new, with favored candidates sometimes averse to squaring off against underdog challengers, who tend to seek as many debates as possible for exposure.

Hutchison, the former KIRO-TV news anchor and state Republican Party chair, initially had challenged Cantwell to 10 debates — one in each of Washington’s congressional districts.

“It’s no secret when you’re out in Washington state that she’s never here,” Hutchison said. “She comes back to the state to produce her photo ops, and that’s about it. The people in Washington state deserve to hear from their senator.”

Cantwell said she’s committed to doing at least two debates and several joint meetings with Hutchison before news editorial boards across the state. But again, she blamed the Senate’s schedule for the impasse on firming up the first debate.

“We’ll see what else Mitch [McConnell] has in mind,” Cantwell said. “It’s not like we are in control of all this, but we’re going to make it work, we’re going to get them done.”