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Commission Announces Dates, Locales for Fall Presidential Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates on Monday announced Mississippi, Tennessee and New York as the locales for next fall's presidential debates.

The first debate will focus on domestic policy, and foreign policy will be the topic for the third. Candidates will sit at a table with the moderator rather than stand at podiums for these debates, which will be divided into eight, 10-minute issue segments.

The moderator will introduce the issue, then allow each candidate to respond before engaging them further on the topic.

"Loosening the constraints within the 90-minute debate will allow for more serious examination of complicated questions," said co-chairmen Paul G. Kirk Jr. and Frank J. Fahrenkopf in a written statement.

The second debate will have a town meeting format and include questions from audience members and questions solicited on the Internet.

The candidates will have time reserved for closing statements in each debate.

One person will moderate the 90-minute debates, which will start at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Moderators will be selected in the summer.

To participate, the candidates must be constitutionally eligible, appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote of the Electoral College and have 15 percent support in national polls before the debates.

Here is the presidential debate schedule:

—Sept. 26, at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

—Oct. 7, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

—Oct. 15, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

The vice presidential debate will be held Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis.

But in New Orleans, there was widespread disappointment at being rejected as a debate site. The reason: Organizers said the city had not recovered enough from Hurricane Katrina to be able to adequately handle such an event. The Sugar Bowl and the NCAA football championship game will be played in New Orleans in January, followed by the NBA All-Star game in February.

"Such a decision is harmful to the region's efforts," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in response to the debate announcement. "There is no better way to help our recovery than to give a boost to the tourism engine driving New Orleans, and to debate issues important to the Gulf Coast and to our country at ground zero of our nation's largest natural disaster."