- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - With more than two months to go before the general election, the only U.S. House and Senate candidate debates scheduled so far will be on Oct. 4 in Bozeman, officials said Monday.

Montana Television Network News Director John Stepanek said he expects the major party candidates to participate. The debates will be broadcast from 7 to 10 p.m. statewide.

“We have acceptances for both races,” he said, adding participants do not include candidates from the Libertarian Party.

Stepanek said he had confirmed with all the candidates, but a spokesman for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines said Monday his camp hadn’t given final confirmation.

“We’re working on the schedule; nothing’s been finalized,” said Daines spokesman Brock Lowrance. “There seems to be a lot of confusion.”

Stepanek said it was his understanding that Daines had confirmed. But even if he hasn’t, plans to move ahead would not be derailed, Stepanek said.

Daines’ opponent Democratic state Rep. Amanda Curtis has confirmed her participation, according to her campaign. She was selected Aug. 16 as the replacement candidate for Sen. John Walsh, who withdrew his candidacy amid plagiarism allegations.

The debates were on hold after the move by Walsh.

In the U.S. House race, Republican candidate Ryan Zinke has declined to participate in debates in Billings and Great Falls due to scheduling conflicts.

It will be the first time in many years without a debate in Billings for that seat, according to Darrell Ehrlick, editor of The Billings Gazette.

Zinke spokeswoman Shelby DeMars said finding a date that worked with opponent John Lewis proved to be too difficult, and after scheduling and rescheduling they decided to keep the campaign event they have set for Sept. 29.

Ehrlick said Lewis will receive a full hour of air time on Sept. 29.

Lewis has accepted all invitations for debates including those in Helena and Kalispell, which haven’t been finalized yet, according to a letter from the Lewis campaign to the Zinke campaign sent last week.

David Parker, a political analyst at Montana State University, said debates are good for both sides when the candidates are non-incumbents.

“Open seat candidates both need name recognition because I don’t care if you’re the front-runner, you’re not as well-known as you’d like to be,” he said.

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