The contest between U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and state Sen. Karin Housley, her Republican challenger, is intensifying as Election Day nears.

Disputes over support for child care and debates surfaced Wednesday. Housley asserted at a news conference that her Democratic rival created “an absolute crisis” in the availability of home-based child care because of state regulations put in place during Smith’s tenure as lieutenant governor.

She also criticized Smith’s decision not to appear at a KSTP-TV debate Sunday, saying Smith “refuses to talk directly” to voters.

Smith campaign manager Alana Petersen noted on Twitter that Housley declined to appear at debates in August and September. She said Housley “is unprepared on most issues.”

Both candidates have accepted invitations to debate Nov. 1 and again on Nov. 4.

Family child-care providers have spent eight years “fending off one attack after another,” including efforts to unionize workers and increased rules, paperwork and training requirements, Housley said. She accused Smith of ignoring that facet of the industry.

Smith recently proposed legislation that would provide grants, low-cost loans and loan forgiveness programs for the purchase or renovation of child-care facilities and offer help for licensing, accreditation and business support.

Housley said the measure “would do nothing to stop the continued loss of family child-care providers,” but the National Association for Family Child Care endorsed it.

Smith campaign spokeswoman Jen Gates said in a statement that the senator backs capping what working families pay for child care at 7 percent of a family’s income and voted for a $5.8 billion increase in child-care funding.

The bipartisan budget approved by Congress in February included that hike for a federal block grant program. Julie Seydel, a licensed family health care provider for 16 years in Andover, said at Housley’s news conference that such grants rarely go to businesses like hers.

A poll conducted last week for Change Research found Smith narrowly leading Housley, 46 to 43 percent. Smith has cited that result in recent fundraising solicitations.