Terry McAuliffe (D), left, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) (Bob Brown, Steve Helber)

The debate over debates in Virginia’s race for governor escalated Wednesday as Terry McAuliffe’s campaign pounced on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s unwillingness to participate in one of the state’s best-known face-offs.

While Cuccinelli (R) has called for holding 15 debates all over the commonwealth, McAuliffe (D) has said he would do five — a number typical of recent statewide contests — including an event to be hosted Oct. 14 in Richmond by AARP and the League of Women Voters. The two groups sponsored debates together in the 2009 governor’s race and 2012 U.S. Senate race, and they have sponsored other debates separately going back more than a decade.

But Cuccinelli did not accept their invitation this year, and McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the Democrat was “disappointed” by Cuccinelli’s move.

“Despite Cuccinelli’s singular focus on complaining about debates, he is refusing to accept one that will be broadcast statewide,” Schwerin said. “Terry agreed to this debate and four others across Virginia. We hope Ken Cuccinelli reconsiders and agrees to join him.”

While not directly addressing why Cuccinelli refused the LWV/AARP debate, Cuccinelli campaign manager Dave Rexrode said McAuliffe had declined invitations from what he called “independent, nonpartisan, Virginia-based organizations” like Christopher Newport University and the Hampton Roads, Prince William and Loudoun chambers of commerce, among others.

“After weeks of stonewalling, excuse making and diversionary tactics, it’s become clear that Terry McAuliffe is either unwilling or unable to participate in debates across the commonwealth where there is a level playing field,” Rexrode said.

Ginger Thompson, a spokeswoman for AARP Virginia, said her group had been unaware that Cuccinelli had decided against doing the debate and was “very disappointed” by his decision.

“AARP has a long history of being a nonpartisan organization, as does the League of Women Voters,” she said. “We believe that our debate, which is called ‘The People’s Debate,’ is one of the few that’s not sponsored by a special interest group, because AARP and the League of Women Voters represent average Virginians.”

The two campaigns have agreed to participate in a July 20 debate sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, though that event was marked by squabbling over the ground rules before the details were finally set. They have also agreed to a Sept. 25 debate in McLean sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce.