- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has turned down an invitation to debate two of his challengers later this month on South Carolina Educational Television.

The debate will go on for 30 minutes with Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg and independent candidate Thomas Ravenel of Charleston, ETV spokesman Tom Posey said Thursday.

The Hutto and Ravenel campaigns said the debate was scheduled Oct. 13.

Graham debated his opponents in his first two runs for U.S. Senate. His campaign spokesman said Graham’s decision not to show up for this statewide televised debate doesn’t mean the candidates won’t all appear at the same place at some point before Election Day on Nov. 4.

“We’re in discussions with other groups, as well as looking at the schedule. Stay tuned,” Graham spokesman Tate Zeigler said.

But Hutto and Ravenel weren’t so confident they would get a debate with the incumbent.

Hutto said it was absurd that Graham could call for America’s soldiers to have the courage to go into combat, then refuse to face people across the state in a debate.

“Lindsey gets breathless with excitement when it comes to sending our young men and women to war but is terrified at the thought of defending his own record in a public debate. The seat does not belong to Lindsey Graham, it belongs to the people. The people deserve to hear from him,” Hutto said in a statement.

Ravenel called Graham’s decision highly arrogant and disrespectful to the people of South Carolina.

“He’s trying to ignore me,” Ravenel said. “But I’m going to debate him anyway.”

Graham is seeking a third, six-year term, after handily defeating six tea party challengers- and debating them - in the GOP primary. He debated Democrat Alex Sanders four times when he won the U.S. Senate seat from the retiring Strom Thurmond in 2002 and debated nearly unknown Democratic challenger Bob Conley once in 2008.

Hutto has been in the state Senate since 1996. He represents parts of five other rural counties.

Ravenel is a real estate developer and reality TV star. He was elected state treasurer in 2006 but resigned and pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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