MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
The presidential campaign debate over debates hit Montana on Monday, with Hillary Rodham Clinton pushing for one next month in Missoula and Obama brushing aside the challenge without completely closing the door. Clinton, trailing in delegates and the popular vote, has been stepping up the pressure on Obama for more debates in advance of the remaining primaries. She has been particularly strong in seeking debates before May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. Obama has dismissed the debate requests, saying he already has taken part in 21 debates. His Montana campaign followed suit. "We're still evaluating the debate offer and are considering it in the context of our No. 1 priority making sure the senator is able to have a direct Conversation with Montanans about the issues impacting their lives," said Montanabased Obama spokesman Matt Chandler. Clinton, who has been seeking a debate without a moderator, said the Missoula debate hosted by the Clark Fork Chronicle would follow such a format. The Clinton campaign says it would follow the Lincoln-Douglas rules where candidates have a free-ranging discussion without questions from the media. The campaign said the newspaper first invited the candidates to the debate in February. "Montanans deserve a chance to hear where Sen. Obama and I stand on important issues that matter to them, before they cast their votes in June," Clinton said in a statement. "A Lincoln-Douglas debate in Missoula will give them the opportunity to see up-close our positions on health care, the economy, education, alternative energy and other crucial issues affecting their communities."