- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson aren’t waiting to win their parties’ Senate nominations before holding one-on-one debates.

Each candidate announced Tuesday they’ll meet for four debates across the state, regardless of the fact that Jolly still has four other Republicans to beat and Grayson has to defeat U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy before they can get on the November ballot.

Their campaigns announced the decision simultaneously, each declaring the other the party front-runner based on a poll released earlier in the day. The same poll showed roughly half the voters in each race are undecided.

“These debates aspire to a Lincoln-Douglas model, where policy stances on national security, health care, and other pressing issues of the day will be defended and disputed, and in places where Florida’s voters can see or hear it,” both campaigns said in separate news releases.

Jolly noted in the releases that control of the Senate could depend on whom Florida elects.

“Rep. Grayson has challenged me to a series of four debates to contrast our differing views for the future of Florida and the country. I accept,” Jolly said.

“Florida faces serious issues, and deserves a serious debate,” Grayson said. “I’m honored that Rep. Jolly has accepted that awesome responsibility. Not all candidates would. As the leaders in this race, we owe it to the people of Florida.”

University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith said it’s “a little grandiose” to compare the planned debates to those held in the 1858 Senate race between Republican Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas.

“Why stop there? Why not just flip a coin to declare one or the other the winner in the general election?” Smith said.

Jolly is facing U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and businessmen Todd Wilcox and Carlos Beruff in the GOP primary.

Grayson is better known than Murphy, his primary rival, but Murphy is raising more money and has the backing of Democratic Party leaders. Grayson is also the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation into a hedge fund he manages, which Murphy has used to attack him.

The first two debates will be held in Jolly’s home region of Tampa Bay and Grayson’s hometown of Orlando. The last two will be held in the Republican stronghold of Jacksonville and South Florida, where Democrats dominate.

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