CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Sen. John Kerry (search) to debate organizers: Let's go light on the lights.
Advisers for the Democratic presidential candidate demanded Thursday that the lights signaling when a speaker's time has expired during debates with President Bush be removed from the lecterns because they are distracting. The commission hosting the debates refused.
Bush's campaign accused Kerry, known for favoring long sentences and statements, of trying to violate debate rules against windy answers.
An angry exchange between representatives of the Kerry campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates (search) took place just hours before the candidates were to meet at the University of Miami for the first of three debates, according to several officials familiar with the meeting. Kerry's team threatened to remove the lights when they visit the debate site with the candidate later in the day.
"We'll do what we have to," Kerry strategist Tad Devine (search) said after his meeting with the commission. But he also suggested the dispute will pass once Kerry's team makes its point. "We'll beat them over the head a little bit, then we'll see what happens."
The commission's executive director, Janet Brown, did not return a call from the AP seeking comment.
It's not unusual for the campaigns to haggle over the smallest debate details, but not so close to the event.
The commission placed the lights on the lecterns in clear view of the television audience and those in the auditorium.
An agreement between the Kerry and Bush campaigns required camera-mounted timing lights for each candidate "positioned in his line of sight." It also specified that timing lights "shall be placed such that they are visible to the debate audiences and television viewers."
Mark Wallace, deputy campaign manager for Bush, said Democrats sought the change "because they don't want the American people to know that Sen. Kerry can't follow the rules."
Kerry's team contended that the agreement doesn't specifically say where the lights should be placed, and it said putting them on the lecterns creates a distraction. Devine said the agreement includes a picture of the lectern that doesn't include the lights.
The Bush team pushed for the lights in negotiations with Kerry advisers. "The Bush teams wants to debate about things like this to distract from the real issues," Devine said.
The commission is a nonprofit and nonpartisan corporation that has sponsored all the presidential debates since 1988.