September 21, 2004


Inch by Inch, Bush and Kerry Reach Agreement on Debates (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 9/21/04, NY Times)

Spontaneity is in short supply in modern presidential politics. But during the debates, it will have been all but stamped out by the agreement, which was negotiated by two men who have cut a deal or two in their long careers, James A. Baker III for Mr. Bush and Vernon E. Jordan Jr. for Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Jordan finished their talks about 10 p.m. on Sunday, having missed almost no detail, one senior administration official said, speaking on the condition that he not be named. But when Mark Wallace, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Bush, started going over the deal on Monday morning with Kerry campaign officials, they briefly got hung up on the details of the way the warning lights would work if either candidate ran over the time allotted for his answer, the official said.

The section on the timing lights also included a discussion of audible time cues. It came a bit after the one specifying that the podiums (or, more likely, lecterns), for the two debates in which they will be used, "shall measure fifty (50) inches from the stage floor to the outside top of the podium facing the audience and shall measure forty-eight (48) inches from the stage floor to the top of the inside podium writing surface"-where, it should be noted, the two candidates will be free to place paper of their own choosing.

The attention to detail is of course not unreasonable, given the stakes.

The Bush campaign, for example, wanted foreign policy to be the topic of the first - and typically the most-watched - debate, instead of the economy, as the Commission on Presidential Debates had first proposed. Mr. Kerry had accepted the commission's original plan over the summer. The final agreement gave the White House what it wanted on that score, officials said.

The Bush campaign was concerned about the original proposal that candidates would take questions from undecided voters in the Oct. 8 debate, in a town hall format in St. Louis. The final deal called for the questions to come from "soft" Bush and Kerry supporters.

Mr. Kerry also got something he wanted: three debates, although it is not clear whether the White House ever seriously contemplated forcing the plan to be scaled back to two.

Okay Vernon, here's the deal: you give us everything we want and we'll give you a full three debates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 21, 2004 4:11 PM
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