U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan on Wednesday agreed to participate in two televised debates with Democratic challenger Keith Fitzgerald -- on the same day Fitzgerald challenged Buchanan to three debates on Medicare, ethics reform and job creation.
Buchanan said he agreed to participate in an Oct. 18 debate co-sponsored by the Bradenton Herald, METV, Bay News 9 and the League of Women Voters that will be posted on Bradenton.com and on METV's YouTube channel; and an Oct. 28 debate to be televised by WWSB-Channel 7.
The election is Nov. 6.
"We encourage everyone to tune in and learn the enormous difference between Vern's positive agenda to create jobs and Keith Fitzgerald's support for the failed policies of (House Democratic Leader) Nancy Pelosi," Sally Tibbetts, spokeswoman for Buchanan, said in a news release announcing his agreeing to two debates.
Buchanan's campaign issued the release Wednesday afternoon, about 20 minutes after a release from Fitzgerald's campaign in which he called for three televised, topic-specific debates.
When asked about Buchanan's announcement, Adam Scott, campaign manager for Fitzgerald, said in an e-mail to the Bradenton Herald he was not aware that Buchanan had agreed to the debates.
Scott said Fitzgerald and Buchanan have yet to appear side by side at event during the campaign.
Like Tibbetts, Fitzgerald used his debate challenge to highlight what he says are the differences between him and Buchanan.
"Our community needs a representative that is going to focus on creating jobs and protecting Medicare," Fitzgerald said in the statement. "After voting twice to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with vouchers, Congressman Buchanan owes it to the voters of the district to explain why seniors should be paying more out of pocket for Medicare.
Fitzgerald said "protecting the Medicare guarantee" has been a focal point of his campaign.
Another centerpiece has been the numerous federal investigations of Buchanan's campaign and business practices.
"And after years of dodging numerous lawsuits, multiple federal investigations, refusing to release his taxes, skipping a court deposition ... it is high time he comes clean and explains why he still deserves the privilege of representing us in Congress," Fitzgerald said.
The House Ethics Committee and the U.S. Justice Department have closed separate investigations of Buchanan's campaign financing and other practices without taking action against him. Another Ethics Committee investigation remains pending.
Fitzgerald has posted on his website his income tax returns, while Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has ignored Fitzgerald's demand that he do the same.