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NASHVILLE — A planned Oct. 1 Chattanooga debate between U.S. Senate Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn and Democratic nominee Phil Bredesen has fallen through after Blackburn's campaign said the Brentwood, Tennessee member of Congress won't be attending.

"I regret to inform you that we will be unable to attend your debate," said Brett O'Donnell, who was handling debate matters for the Blackburn campaign, in an email sent Thursday to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which was sponsoring the debate.

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O'Donnell also said in the email that "we appreciate your willingness to hold a debate, but it will not be part of our debate schedule."

Times Free Press Editor Alison Gerber said the newspaper had "extended an invitation for a debate and changed the date to accommodate a request by the Blackburn campaign, to which the Bredesen campaign agreed.

"We had hoped to host a robust conversation between the two candidates and are disappointed that the debate will not happen," Gerber said in her statement.

She also noted that Fox News had approached the newspaper about joining the debate as a partner. "But we had not made a decision on their offer," she said. "Fox News was never a confirmed partner."

The Oct. 1 debate is the second that Blackburn has turned down in the Nov. 6 match-up with Bredesen, a former Tennessee governor and one-time Nashville mayor. The race is being nationally watched because its outcome could influence the balance of the Senate.

Late last month, the Blackburn campaign turned down a Sept. 13 invitation for a debate in Memphis sponsored by The Commercial Appeal, WMC-TV and Rhodes College, with university officials saying they were told the debate did not fit into the candidate's schedule.

Bredesen spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen criticized Blackburn for not participating in the Chattanooga debate in a written statement, saying that "here in Tennessee, when you apply for a job, you need to show up — which is why Governor Bredesen will be in Chattanooga on October 1 to share his ideas.

"We hope Congresswoman Blackburn reconsiders dodging another debate in an important part of the state."

Blackburn and Bredesen have agreed to two statewide television debates. One is set for Sept. 25 at Cumberland University in Lebanon and is sponsored by the university, The Tennessean newspaper, WTVF-TV and Nashville Public Television.

An Oct. 10 debate is set in Knoxville and is sponsored by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and Tennessee-based television affiliates of Nexstar Media Group.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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