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Upcoming Senate debates loom large

Shelley Berkley
Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., as she debates Republican Senator Dean Heller at the Reno public television studios Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. Scott Sady / AP
/ Source: MSNBC

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.