U.S. Representative Betsy Markey successfully challenged Republican Marilyn Musgrave two years ago in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District in a boisterous campaign with a fair share of confrontations. But in her re-election bid this year against GOP nominee Cory Gardner, Markey has declined “most debates,” including one that left Gardner sitting next to an empty seat during a taped event for Colorado Public Television that will air today, writes The Associated Press.

Gardner’s campaign is criticizing Markey for refusing to participate in any debates that exclude the race’s two other candidates: Doug Aden of the American Constitution Party and independent Ken Waszkiewicz. But the Fort Collins Coloradoan‘s editorial board isn’t buying Markey’s reasoning: “A deeper look reveals that political strategy, not generosity of spirit, is the true motivation here.”

Markey is facing what is thought to be one of the most challenging campaigns in the nation. She’s the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1973 and “hasn’t exactly played it safe,” voting for or supporting much of the Democratic agenda, including the stimulus bill, writes Time. “Republicans couldn’t have asked for a better recruit in Colorado’s 4th District this cycle,” the magazine continues, calling Gardner—a 35-year-old state representative from Yuma—”a polished candidate with a thin voting record.”