WASHINGTON – Don't look for podiums, opening statements or surprise topics at the debates if President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney follow the plan organizers released Wednesday.
The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates said debates would be 90 minutes each and feature topics that would be announced ahead of time so voters and candidates alike can study the subjects.
"The debates are the most widely watched political programs of any kind," debate planners Frank Fahrenkopf and Mike McCurry said in a statement. "These format changes are designed to promote substantive dialogue before, during and after the debates about the major issues of the day. They will permit citizens and candidates to come prepared for a series of voter education forums that inform and engage the public."
Moderators for the televised events are set to be announced in August.
The first debate, scheduled for Oct. 3 at the University of Denver, is set to focus on domestic policy. Organizers plan six, 15-minute segments that would open with a question, a two-minute reply from each candidate and then a discussion. They want the candidates to sit at a table with the moderator, rather than standing on podiums.
The second, scheduled for Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., would take the form of a town hall-style meeting. Planners say the questions would come from undecided voters selected by pollster Gallup. Each candidate would get two minutes to tackle the question, with a moderator facilitating a follow-up discussion.
The final debate would take the same format as the first, but would focus on foreign policy topics announced ahead of time. That is scheduled for Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet Romney's yet unnamed running mate for a debate on Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky. The event would be divided into nine, 10-minute segments devoted to foreign and domestic policies. Each candidate will be allowed a two-minute response with a moderator dividing the time.
"There are serious issues facing this country and the public has the right to expect a serious examination of those issues during this fall's debates," organizers said. "The (Commission on Presidential Debates) believes this can be accomplished best by focusing big time blocks on major domestic and foreign topics."