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2004 Debates Overview


• The three presidential debates are each set to begin at 9 pm Eastern and last 90 minutes.

• They are scheduled for:

• Thursday, September 30 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

• Friday, October 8 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

• Wednesday, October 13 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

• There is one scheduled vice-presidential debate. It will begin at 9 pm Eastern.

• It's set for Tuesday, October 5 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Topics and Set-Up

• Sept. 30th, Florida: President Bush and John Kerry (search) will debate foreign policy and homeland security.

• Jim Lehrer of PBS will moderate.

• The candidates will appear at podiums.

• Oct. 5, Ohio: The debate will have a town-hall format with likely voters in the audience.

• It is planned to have an equal number of domestic and foreign police questions.

• Charles Gibson of ABC News will moderate.

• The candidates will sit at a table with the moderator.

• Oct. 13, Arizona: The candidates will debate the economy.

• Bob Schieffer of CBS News will moderate.

• The candidates will appear at podiums.


• The candidates will not have any opening statements.

• They will get a two-minute closing statement in each debate.

• The order of speakers will be determined in part by coin toss.

• The first toss will take place 72 hours before the Sept. 30th debate and initiates a somewhat complicated series of choices by each candidate that will affect multiple debates.

Sept. 30 and Oct. 13 Debates

• The moderator will ask one candidate at a time a question. That candidate will have two minutes to respond. The other candidate will then have one and a half minutes to comment on that answer.

• The moderator can then extend the discussion another 60 seconds, returning first to the candidate who initially answered the question. Neither candidate can speak more than 30 seconds in this rebuttal period.

• In other words, any one question will have a maximum response time of four and a half minutes (two minute answer, one and a half minute rebuttal and 60 second extension).

October 8 Debate

• Follows the same time limitations, but questions will be asked by audience members.

• Audience members will be asked to write their questions ahead of time. Only the moderator will see those questions and he will select all the questions that are asked.

• The moderator will work to make sure half the questions are on domestic issues and half on foreign policy.

• The moderator must come up with a plan for selecting questions and present that to the campaigns by October 1.

General Rules

• The debates are governed by an unprecedented 32 pages of rules negotiated by campaigns.

• Bush and Kerry cannot ask each other direct questions, but can ask rhetorical questions.

• They also cannot challenge one another to make a pledge, such as "Will you agree right now to stop running negative ads?"

• Bush and Kerry cannot move from their positions behind the podium.

• Networks are supposed to show the candidate who is speaking. Directors are being told not to use cut-aways of one candidate while the other is speaking. Directors also cannot show the candidates from behind.

• But some television networks say they plan to ignore those rules.

• Other than Secret Service (search), physicians and photographers, the candidates can have just one staff member in the wings during the debate.

• Candidates cannot use any props or charts.

• But, the candidates may chose whatever color or size paper they like for taking notes.

• Even so, all such paper must be submitted to debate officials for clearance beforehand.

Physical Specifics

• The lecterns for each candidate must be 50 inches tall in total and 48 inches from the floor to the candidate's writing surface.

• Those podiums must be ten feet apart, each equally canted toward center stage.

• Timing lights will turn on when either candidate has gone over his time limit. President Bush's campaign says they pushed for that so people would know when Kerry is breaking rules.

Why So Many Details?

• The Bush campaign pressed for many of the specifics.

• A campaign spokesman says they wanted to limit Kerry's ability to "grandstand" and "break rules".

• Analysts say the rules are designed around Kerry's style. He likes to move around and has a tendency to speak in longer sentences.

• The Kerry campaign says they did not fight hard on the rules of the debate and instead pushed for a third debate to be held in a town-hall format with undecided voters asking questions. That's scheduled for October 8.

Who Gets Tickets?

• Each campaign gets a third of the tickets and the Commission on Presidential Debates (search) will get the final third. That excludes audience participation tickets for undecided voters on October 8.

• The tickets controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates have already been given out or are being sent out now. The commission says they have been overwhelmed by requests.

(Sources: Debate Memorandum of Understanding.)