Every four years there is a ritual debate over debates
For several weeks the two major campaigns jockey back and forth haggling over details big and small - everything from the number and format of the debates to the podium height and shape and who is or is not acceptable as a moderator.
Closed-doors meetings alternate with pointed public pronouncements, but eventually the two sides reach an accord.
There is no requirement that presidential candidates participate in debates, but it would be quite damaging to be seen as blocking the debates, particularly since the candidates are taking federal funds.
Debate Negotiation Teams
Bush-Cheney '04, Inc.
James A. Baker III (search) (Senior partner, Baker Botts LLP (Houston))
Robert B. Zoellick (search) (U.S. Trade representative)
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (search)
Allan B. Hubbard (search) (President of E&A Industries, Inc.)
Karen Hughes (search) (BC04 senior advisor)
Mary Matalin (search) (BC04 senior advisor)
Mark Wallace (search) (BC04 deputy campaign manager)
Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc.
Vernon Jordan (search) (Senior managing director of Lazard LLC)
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (search)
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (search)
Jim Johnson (search) (Washington businessman and civic leader)
Robert Barnett (search) (Washington lawyer)
Mike McCurry (search) (former White House press secretary)
2004 Debate Contract
• A 32-page contract covering details ranging from permissible camera angles to height of the lecterns (50 inches high on the side facing the audience, 48 inches on the side facing the candidates) was signed on September 20, 2004.
The agreement is only one page longer than the 2000 version but includes many more restrictions on format, audience participation and the moderator, according to officials in both parties.
• Lecterns will be 10 feet, as measured from "the left-right center" of one "to the left-right center of the other”.
• Details of the debates were announced by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, the chief negotiator for Bush, and the lawyer and lobbyist Vernon E. Jordan for Kerry.
• The agreement embraced the schedule proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
• The most contentious issue was an Oct. 8 debate that is to be held in a town-hall format, with audience members asking questions.
Bush's chief negotiator, James A. Baker III, had proposed dropping that meeting.
The president's advisers were concerned that partisans could pass themselves off as "undecided voters," as the commission's proposal described the audience.
The agreement specifies that the audience consist of 100 to 150 "likely voters who are 'soft' Bush supporters or 'soft' Kerry supporters," split evenly between the two.
The Gallup Organization will pick the audience, submitting its methodology to the campaigns for approval 14 days before the debate.
• Baker yielded on the town-hall debate issue but seems to have won on most others, including focusing the first debate on foreign policy and homeland security issues - areas in which the Bush camp feels it has an advantage. The first debate is typically the most widely watched.
• The two campaigns also agreed to the commission's selection of moderators: Jim Lehrer of PBS for the first, Charles Gibson of ABC for the second, Bob Schieffer of CBS for the third, and Gwen Ifill of PBS for the vice-presidential debate.
• The topic for the first debate will be foreign policy and domestic security rather than the economy as the commission had suggested.
• The final debate, which the commission had said should be about foreign policy, will now be about the economy.
• Cameras cannot show the opposing candidate's reactions while the other is speaking
• Bush and Kerry, as well as Cheney and Edwards, must shake hands at the outset of each debate.
• "At no time during these debates shall either candidate move from their designated areas behind their respective podiums," the agreement says.
• “The chairs will be swivel chairs that can be locked in place and shall be of equal height," the agreement says.