Leonhardt said those forums received no publicity, there were never more than 100 people in attendance and no members of the press showed up to cover them. He said he doubts anyone remembers what any of the candidates said.
"It never got widespread coverage in the media," he said.
Leonhardt wants to appear at an open public forum with a live audience and a moderator.
"The public needs to hear the views of both candidates to make an informed decision. That's what free press and democracy is all about. The public has a right to know who they are voting for, not just on name recognition," he said.
"I think he's afraid of me. I wouldn't want to debate me either. He's not qualified to be commissioner of agriculture. He's not a practical farmer, he doesn't have an agricultural degree," Leonhardt said.
State law says the agriculture commissioner should be a "practical farmer" and have made agriculture his or her chief business for 10 years before being elected. Helmick raises neither livestock nor crops but runs a water bottling operation from his Pocahontas County property.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ruled earlier this year the "practical farmer" requirement is unconstitutional and unenforceable.
Helmick spokesman Tom Susman said his candidate would not appear at any Leonhardt-scheduled events.
"The Republicans are not going to set Sen. Helmick's schedule," he said.
Susman said there would be multiple forums - chamber of commerce meetings, community meet-the candidate events, newspaper editorial board meetings - where he and Leonhardt will appear together.
"Anybody who's been around these things knows there are numerous occasions (to appear)," he said.
Susman compared Leonhardt's proposed phone debate to President Obama inviting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to square off at the Democratic National Convention.
He pointed out the debate's moderator, radio host and former Bluefield mayor Craig Hammond, was at one time chairman of the West Virginia Young Republicans.
Susman said the Leonhardt campaign's repeated requests for debates are a diversion.
"Instead of talking about job creation and agriculture, instead of talking about how we're going to advocate farmers . . . (and how to) protect the food stream, it's easier to talk about, are we going to have a debate," he said.
Leonhardt said the telephone debate would have been fair to both sides. His campaign was going to let reporters ask anything they wanted, with no questions prepared ahead of time.
Howard Swint, a Democrat trying to nab Rep. Shelly Moore Capito's Second District seat in Congress, said he has repeatedly asked the Republican's campaign for a debate. So far, he hasn't received a response.
Swint and Capito met with the Daily Mail editorial board Monday. Following the meeting, Swint challenged Capito to a debate.
"It wasn't 'yes,' " he said.
He said he would debate Capito "any place, any time," but University of Charleston President Ed Welch already has offered to facilitate a debate for the congressional candidates.
Swint may get his wish.
Capito campaign spokesman Kent Gates said the congresswoman would be happy to participate in a debate, as long as the event fits her schedule, is sponsored by a "responsible third party" and would provide "a productive discussion of issues the voters care about."
"The congresswoman has always debated in the past. We evaluate every request that comes in," Gates said.