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Inside Politics

Campaigns agree to 3 presidential debates

Vice presidential candidates have one scheduled meeting


RELATED
Debate Dates
September 30
First presidential debate: University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida

October 5
Vice presidential debate: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

October 8
Second presidential debate: Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

October 13
Third presidential debate: Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
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George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and Sen. John Kerry will meet for the first of three presidential debates next week, both campaigns announced Monday.

Two additional debates will follow within two weeks. There will also be a debate between the candidates for vice president.

"The debates will provide an opportunity for President Bush and Senator John Kerry to have a serious discussion about the important issues to be decided in this election," a joint statement from the campaigns said. "Both President Bush and Senator Kerry are pleased with today's announcement and look forward to the debates."

The first debate is September 30 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. It will be moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer. ABC's Charles Gibson will moderate the second, and CBS's Bob Schieffer will moderate the third.

Under the agreement, the first debate will focus on foreign policy and homeland security, while the final one will deal with economic and domestic policy.

The second debate is to be held as a town hall meeting, with questions posed by an equal number of "soft" supporters of each candidate chosen by the Gallup Organization.

That debate "shall not be limited by topic and shall include an equal number of questions related to foreign policy and homeland security on the one hand and economic and domestic policy on the other," the agreement says.

The two candidates will be seated on stools for that debate, but for the other two debates they will be standing behind podiums.

Each debate will begin at 9 p.m. ET and will run for 90 minutes, with at least 16 questions.

In each debate, according to the agreement, "the candidates may not ask each other direct questions, but may ask rhetorical questions."

According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the Bush team initially wanted just two debates, skipping the town hall forum in Missouri.

Senior Bush and Kerry sources said one of the last things the campaigns were negotiating was how the candidates would get their cues.

A senior Kerry source said the Bush campaign was "hung up" over whether a light or something audible like a buzzer would be used to tell the candidates when their time is up. A Bush official acknowledged that last-minute questions, mostly over the time cue issue, held up the agreement.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached: Timing lights will flash when there are 30 seconds, 15 seconds and five seconds remaining. An audible cue will then go off to note the end of time for a response, and the moderator will step in.

"The audible cue shall be clearly audible to both candidates, the debate audiences and television viewers," the agreement says.

CNN's Candy Crowley, John King, Dana Bash and John Mercurio contributed to this report.


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