In a rare four-way race for state representative, an independent candidate and University of Connecticut student Brien Buckman called for a $1,000 spending cap and challenged his three opponents to a series of public debates.

The scramble to represent the 54th district which includes Mansfield, Chaplin, and the Uconn Storrs campus, started last year when Democratic Majority Leader Denise Merrill announced her candidacy for Secretary of the State.

In a district where the university is the most prominent constituent it should be no surprise that ties to UConn Country dominate the race: Buckman is a student along with independent candidate and student activist Jason Ortiz. Democratic endorsed candidate Mansfield Deputy Mayor Gregory Haddad is a UConn Alum as well. Christopher Paulhus, the Republican candidate and Mansfield Town Councilman, did not return several calls and emails for comment.

Earlier this week, Buckman issued a press release asking the other candidates, local community and UConn organizations to help create more discussion within the district.

“The future of our state and district is at a crossroads,” he said in the press release. “We need to ensure that residents have had the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates, and to hear what each candidate can bring to the table. Until we start talking about the issues and possible solutions, we will not see any improvements in our community.”

Buckman sought the Democratic nomination in May but lost it to Haddad. In his press release, Buckman said he pledged to spend no more than $1,000 and urged his opponents to do the same.

“The other candidates are comfortable with paying for their campaign mailers and signs,” he said. “They have a financial will to campaign that way rather than have a debate. This election needs to be about the issues we face, not about campaign mailers and signs.”

Haddad raised $5,000 in small donations and received $26,000 in public funds this past July. He said he looks forward to new opportunities for discussion both locally and on campus. He hopes a non-partisan student organization like the student daily newspaper The Daily Campus will hold an event where the candidates can discuss the issues.

“These forums are better driven by voters rather than politics,” he said. “As a UConn graduate myself, I plan to campaign aggressively on campus by getting out there and talking to people, by shaking hands.”

Ortiz said he feels up to the challenge of a debate, but thinks the community not a university organization should host the forum.

“I’m excited for Mansfield to hold a debate because the community is what’s important,” he said.

Now that students are returning to campus, he plans to beef up his campaign and push students to get out and vote.

“We’re working on some voter registration initiatives on campus now,” he said. “We even approached students at some off-campus parties this weekend.”

Both Ortiz and Buckman have an uphill climb when it comes to fundraising because in order to qualify for public funds the Independent party would have had to receive a certain percentage of the vote in the last election. No Independent or unaffiliated candidates ran in the last election making it almost impossible for them to receive a public campaign grant.

But Ortiz and Buckman seem to be approaching the race differently. While Buckman has filed a form saying he won’t raise more than $1,000, Ortiz has filed a candidate committee, which allows him to raise as much money as he wants. He said he plans on using “any and all resources,” at his disposal.

Ortiz’s last filing in June shows that he raised $55 from individuals and donated $90 to his own money to the campaign.

Haddad and Paulhus, the two major party candidates, also seem to be approaching the fundraising aspect of the campaign differently. Haddad qualified for $26,000 in public financing, while Paulhus has opted out of the Citizens’ Election Program.

It’s unclear if Paulhus would accept Buckman’s challenge of adhering to a $1,000 spending cap because he did not return at least three phone calls and two emails.