Shelley Berkley
Scott Sady  /  AP
Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., as she debates Republican Senator Dean Heller at the Reno public television studios Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.
By
MSNBC
updated 9/28/2012 7:36:04 AM ET 2012-09-28T11:36:04

While all eyes are fixed on the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates, the candidates in the tightest Senate races across the country are gearing up for an October slog of face-to-face exchanges.

And in some cases, they’ve already begun.

Last week, candidates in three of the most closely watched contests — Virginia, Massachusetts, and Missouri -- faced off for the first time.

This week, two more fiercely contested contests are holding debates, both in presidential swing states.

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Tonight in Reno, Nev., U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D, and Sen. Dean Heller, R, take the stage for the first time this season. Both candidates have been camera shy, mostly avoiding the press and TV interviews while their race has primarily played out on the airwaves -- becoming one of the most contentious campaigns in the country.

Polls: Obama leads in NH, tighter in Nev., NC

In July, the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to investigate Berkley over conflicts of interest and lack of disclosure. Heller said last week “The most unethical, corrupt person I’ve ever met in my life is Shelley Berkley.”

Berkley, meanwhile, is linking Heller to corruption in her latest TV ad. “Meet Eddie Floyd, a crooked businessman who pled guilty to laundering drug money. A friend of Dean Heller’s,” the Berkley ad begins.

Tonight's Berkley-Heller showdown is the first of three debates between the candidates. They will meet again in Las Vegas on Oct. 11th and on Jon Ralston’s “Face to Face” program on Oct. 15.

Seinfeld actor stumps for his 'man-crush' as early voting begins in Iowa

In Wisconsin tomorrow night, U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, R, also will meet for the time. The race has seen as a jolt of competitiveness lately with several polls showing Baldwin surging against Thompson.

Baldwin and Thompson have agreed to two more debates — on Oct. 18 and Oct. 26, both of which will be broadcast statewide.

Video: Rep. Shelley Berkley on her Senate race

Former Nebraska Gov. and U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, D, and his Republican opponent, state Sen. Deb Fischer, R, will also face off tomorrow night for their second time. In their first match-up, on Aug. 25, both accused the other of kowtowing to partisan interests while championing themselves as a bridge builder.

Kerrey, having served as president of the New School in New York City for 12 years, took on the “carpet bagging” issue.

"This is the second time I've left and come back. And nobody called me a carpetbagger when I came back from Vietnam," he said.

And there will be plenty of other debates next month — in the Senate contests in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, and New Mexico.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: In Virginia, Obama touts ‘economic patriotism’

  1. Closed captioning of: In Virginia, Obama touts ‘economic patriotism’

    >>> meanwhile, on the campaign trail, the candidates were shadowing each other in a crucial swing state , this time, virginia , chief correspondent chuck todd has more.

    >> reporter: good evening, savannah, the presidential campaign , of course is focused on nine states where the polls are close. and every year, one state stands out from the rest, in 2004 , it was florida, ohio, more and more, it looks like virginia . and that was where both candidates were today. for the president his 13th campaign stop in the state.

    >> how is it going, virginia beach ?

    >> reporter: rallying thousands in virginia beach with a new line.

    >> it is time for a new economic patriotism, one rooted in the belief that growing our economy begins with a strong middle class .

    >> reporter: mr. obama's idea includes tax hikes on the wealthy and more government spending on infrastructure. he is making it the new center piece of a tv ad for the closing argument.

    >> if i could sit down with you at the table or in the living room, here is what i would say.

    >> reporter: mitt romney focused on the deep ties to the military, warning that devastating job losses are coming up congress and the president went through with potential defense cuts.

    >> the impact will be immediate and significant right here in virginia . 136,000 jobs will be lost in virginia as a result of this move.

    >> reporter: this new feeling reflects the idea that many have voted. this year the number could grow to 40%, but in some of the key swing states the number could even be higher, more than half of all voters in colorado, florida, nevada and north carolina cast their ballots early four years ago. voting is under way in virginia , which could be the new political bellwether, mr. obama won there earlier, identical to his nationwide popular vote . the two have strong bases, for democrats, minority voters and federal workers. for republicans, christian conservatives and military veterans . and in the middle, a stubborn independent vote.

    >> in a way, people in virginia are less partisan, we don't have party ideas in our elections, we're interested in people who get stuff done.

    >> reporter: now in the last two weeks we released new numbers, in north carolina , new hampshire,

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