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Rounds' US Senate opponents call for more debates

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By Dirk Lammers

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds just emerged from the Republican primary field, and his three U.S. Senate challengers have begun calling him to the debate podium.

Former Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler on Thursday challenged Rounds, Democrat Rick Weiland and independent candidate Gordon Howie to eight to 10 debates before the Nov. 4 election.

Pressler, who's running as an independent, said he's concerned about the low, 21 percent turnout in Tuesday's primary and said face-to-face debates are needed to overcome the apparent voter apathy. Pressler said nonparty candidates aren't able to draw much political action committee money, and such forums are needed so voters can hear about issues.

"Almost everybody says they want a low-budget, issue-oriented campaign," he said. "I'm going to give the voters a chance to vote for that."

Rounds on Tuesday captured the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.

Rob Skjonsberg, Rounds' campaign manager, said the former governor anticipates beginning the year's debates at Dakotafest in August upon the successful negotiations of rules that each campaign accepts.

"We believe it's important that South Dakota citizens have the opportunity to see the significant differences between the candidates," Skjonsberg said.

The Republican primary featured just two debates attended by all five GOP candidates.

Weiland, a Sioux Falls restaurant owner who once worked for former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, has been urging Rounds to agree to debate him on the Medicare issue since Rounds began airing an ad on the subject in May. Rounds' campaign responded to Weiland that debates should not be limited to a single topic and should include all candidates.

Weiland said it's important for candidates to step out from behind their paid TV ads and discuss issues in real time.

"We don't debate enough in this country in deciding who we want to lead us," he said.

Howie said he, too, wants to debate as often as possible. He said it's important for citizens to be able to "interrogate their candidates" for public office and not just listen to their talking points.

"Too often, candidates just slip past the important questions and duck the issues," Howie said. "So far, slick ad campaigns and slogans and big money have prevailed."

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