MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Sen. Luther Strange and challenger Roy Moore on Wednesday engaged in a bitter war of words over a canceled debate, but have tentatively agreed to face off on stage later this month.
The two Republicans running for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' former U.S. Senate seat traded accusations after Moore withdrew from a debate hosted by a conservative think tank, the Alabama Policy Institute.
Moore said he withdrew because API's president also serves as treasurer of the Senate Leadership Fund, a group backing Strange that has run attack ads against Moore. Moore said the debate "felt too much like a pre-set political trick organized by the Strange campaign."
The Strange campaign then accused Moore of ducking a debate. "What is Roy Moore afraid of? What is Roy Moore hiding?" Strange campaign spokesman Cameron Foster said in a statement.
Moore then challenged Strange to meet him in a "Lincoln-Douglas style" debate to present issues without a moderator or questions from the news media.
"I propose a public debate, mano a mano, no tricks, no moderators, no questions from the press," Moore said in a statement. "Just Luther Strange and me on the stage presenting our issues and the opponents' responses thereto."
Strange's camp first called Moore's demand of no questions from the press "embarrassing" and said they would accept with a moderator and if Moore agreed to a separate debate. The Strange campaign later accepted Moore's proposal, saying they would "accommodate Mr. Moore's ridiculous demands if that is the only way to get him to come out of hiding."
The Moore campaign issued a statement saying they were glad Strange had agreed to an "open and honest debate."
"We look forward to letting the people of Alabama hear the truth from the debate stage, not lies from Washington ads," the Moore campaign wrote in a statement.
There were no immediate details on when and where the debate would occur.
The Strange campaign also urged Moore to also attend a debate hosted by Raycom news media on Sept. 22.
The two camps traded barbs on other issues. Moore criticized Strange's association with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and said Strange needed to answer questions about his appointment. The Strange campaign said Moore needed to answer questions about how a charity he founded to do religious-themed litigation used its money.
Alabama Policy Institute did not respond to Moore other than to say it regretted the scheduled debate could not go forward.
The two Republicans are competing in the Sept. 26 GOP runoff. The winner will face Democrat Doug Jones in December.