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Recall candidates will get early look at questions

Organizer: Format aims to prevent 'sound-bite answers'

From John Mercurio
CNN Washington Bureau

Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to skip Wednesday's debate featuring California's top gubernatorial candidates.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to skip Wednesday's debate featuring California's top gubernatorial candidates.

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Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger countered charges that he's ducking debates in the California recall campaign. CNN's Kelly Wallace reports.
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Schwarzenegger said he looks forward to one 'fantastic debate' scheduled for late September.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has countered charges that he's ducking debates in the California recall campaign by highlighting his plans to participate in a statewide debate September 24. What Schwarzenegger doesn't mention is that he, and all the other candidates, will receive that forum's questions one week ahead of time.

Joe Berry, the vice president for special projects for the California Broadcasters Association, which is sponsoring the 90-minute debate at Sacramento State University, said organizers are compiling questions this week from viewers around the state. Once they decide on a final a list of questions, they plan to videotape voters posing the questions to candidates.

The CBA will release the questions publicly September 10 and will likely post them on the association's Web site, It is the first time the association has ever released questions for a debate beforehand, Berry said.

"Our real goal is to get away from sound-bite answers that we get when you surprise the candidates. This way they have no excuse," Berry said. "This way, if they don't come up with a good answer, you'll know why."

Berry said the CBA did not negotiate the conditions of its debate with any candidate. Organizers first released their guidelines August 14.

The first debate of the campaign will be held Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. (7 to 9 p.m. EDT) in Walnut Creek. It will be sponsored by San Francisco television station KTVU, radio station KQED and the Contra Costa Times newspaper. Schwarzenegger decided to skip that one.

His aides strongly denied that the actor-turned-politician agreed to participate only in the September 24 debate because he would have a week to script his remarks.

"Our decision to participate with the CBA was that they are the organization that has most successfully sponsored gubernatorial debates in the last two election cycles," said Rob Stutzman, a Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman.

"They have the best track record and they ensured us of the broadest distribution of television viewers."

Organizers expect six candidates to participate in the September 24 debate. The three candidates leading in the polls -- Schwarzenegger, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and state Sen. Tom McClintock -- have been invited. Under the CBA guidelines, the additional three candidates invited to debate will likely be columnist and independent candidate Arianna Huffington, Green Party candidate Peter Camejo and businessman Peter Ueberroth, running as a Republican.

The debate will be moderated by Stan Statham, the association's president and CEO. It will take place September 24 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (9 to 10:30 p.m. EDT).

Meanwhile, a group opposing the recall effort is to begin broadcasting advertisements Wednesday, coinciding with the first debate, featuring one of the state's most popular politicians, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, voicing opposition to the October 7 ballot.

"The recall is creating uncertainty and instability. It's bad for our economy, it's bad for jobs and it's bad for California," Feinstein says in one of the ads, which are being run by a pro-Davis group called Californians Against the Costly Recall.

Feinstein has been one of Davis' most steadfast supporters.

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