Campaigns Agree on Debate Formats

Friday, September 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The debates are on, almost.

Under a deal reached Thursday, Americans are to see three prime-time presidential debates between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, and one between the running mates. Feeling pressure to get the matter settled, Bush gave up on the idea of meeting his opponent in less formal TV talk shows.

The two campaigns met early Friday to work out how the debates will be conducted; they expected to iron out those details by the end of the day.

As he entered the meeting, Gore campaign William Daley said the issues remaining were mainly related to format. He was optimistic that the two sides would finalize debate details soon.

``We will get it done today,'' he said.

Campaigning in San Diego, Bush, the one-time holdout, said he was eager to get on with the debates, even while recognizing Gore has a lot of experience in these confrontations.

``I know the man is a great debater,'' Bush said, ``but what Americans want is a great leader.''

Bush yielded to Gore's insistence that they stick to the schedule of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private bipartisan group that has sponsored presidential debates since 1988.

The debates are to be held Oct. 3 in Boston, Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oct. 17 in St. Louis, with each debate lasting 90 minutes and starting at 9 p.m. EDT. A 90-minute debate between the vice presidential candidates, Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney, will go forward Oct. 5 in Danville, Ky., also at 9 p.m. EDT.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush wants a ``free-flowing, spontaneous format instead of the rehearsed, wooden formats where candidates are rewarded for memorizing 30-second sound bites.''

The agreement was announced by Bush campaign chairman Don Evans and his Democratic counterpart, Daley, after their first joint meeting with the debate commission.

Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan and Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, both registering single digits in national polls, most likely will not meet the commission's threshold of 15 percent in six media polls for inclusion. Candidates must meet those conditions by late September to be invited

Thursday's negotiations ended a standoff lasting several weeks in which Bush held out for doing only one debate sponsored by the commission and several less formal matchups in other venues, such as one on a special edition of NBC's ``Meet the Press'' and another on CNN's ``Larry King Live.''

Commission officials praised the campaigns for resolving the issue.

``The major thing is that the debate debate is over,'' said Paul Kirk, co-chairman of the commission and former Democratic National Committee chairman. ``The credit goes to the campaigns ... that they saw the wisdom of agreeing to it and getting this noise level about it behind them.''

Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the commission and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, ``The American people ... are going to have a full airing of all the issues in this campaign.''

The commission leaders made it clear at the outset of the meeting that they could not agree to moving debate sites announced in January.

Only two presidential debates were held in 1996 and one between running mates. The record for presidential debates — four between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in 1960 — still has not been matched.