WASHINGTON – Two debates or three? Preparations for presidential debates are proceeding amid reports that President Bush (search) may not agree to as many as the Democrats and a debate commission want.
Bush has not dropped out of a proposed St. Louis town hall forum or any other faceoff, spokesman Reed Dickens said Wednesday. In fact, he can't drop out because his team of negotiators has never agreed to any of the debates proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates (search), Dickens said.
"The debate commission has put forth recommendations and we haven't taken a position yet," Dickens said.
The Washington Post on Wednesday reported unnamed Bush campaign officials saying that Bush's negotiating team wanted to opt out of the Oct. 8 question-and-answer session with undecided voters at Washington University in St. Louis. The officials said that the team, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III (search), was concerned members of the audience could be partisan. The audience is to be chosen by the Gallup Organization (search).
Democratic candidate John Kerry's (search) debate team, led by Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan (search), agreed in July to three presidential debates and one vice-presidential meeting. The first debate is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. That debate, like the third proposed presidential confrontation, on Oct. 13 at Arizona State University in Tempe, would have moderators asking questions.
The vice presidential debate has been proposed for Oct. 5 at Case Western University in Cleveland.
Democrats are hoping to work with the Bush-Cheney campaign on debate details, said Kerry spokeswoman Christine Anderson. The commission plans to work with both teams.
The campaigns should not be concerned that partisan voters could be part of the undecided audience, said Gallup Poll Editor in Chief Frank Newport. Potential audience members are not told why they are being called, he said.
"I think it is a tremendous service to viewers and voters to have real people ask questions," Newport said.
In announcing that Kerry would be campaigning Friday in the St. Louis area, Rep. Dick Gephardt -- a St. Louis Democrat and former presidential candidate -- said the importance of the election necessitates having at least three debates.
Steve Givens, Washington University chairman of the presidential debate steering committee, said the school was moving ahead with its plans.