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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush and Gore Prepare for the 2-Man Debate

October 02, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As George W. Bush and Al Gore crammed for Tuesday's presidential debate, their two best-known challengers complained heartily Sunday that their exclusion from the upcoming Boston showdown was unfair.

Appearing together on NBC's "Meet the Press," the ideologically disparate duo of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan were unified in their derision for the presidential commission organizing the debates, which decided to limit invitations to candidates scoring 15% or more in national polls.

"This ought to be opened up," said Buchanan, who is the Reform Party nominee. "What are those parties afraid of that they won't let Ralph and me in the debate [to] argue our point of view?"

Nader, the Green Party nominee, also was critical that the commission limited the invitations to Bush and Gore.

"They're blocking the access to tens of millions of voters because they have a monopoly, and the networks let them have the monopoly because they didn't co-sponsor their own debates," he said.

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, set up in 1987 to stem debate disputes, has organized the fall presidential debates since the 1988 election. It has refused to budge on the makeup of this year's sessions despite lobbying by Buchanan and Nader partisans.

The two men who made the cut, meanwhile, crammed using briefing books and readied their strategies for Tuesday's first meeting. There are two more presidential debates scheduled: Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oct. 17 in St. Louis. Vice presidential nominees Dick Cheney and Joseph I. Lieberman will debate Thursday in Danville, Ky.

Democratic nominee Gore met over lunch with 12 guests from around the country that his campaign flew to his debate camp in Sarasota, Fla., in what aides said was an attempt to inject the views of everyday Americans into the vice president's preparations. Gore also took part in a mock debate.

At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Republican standard-bearer Bush reviewed material prepared for the debate. The Texas governor got away from the intense preparations by jogging and chopping wood.

In the absence of any news-making pronouncements by the candidates, the Bush team sought to embarrass Gore by highlighting a new poll from Gore's home state of Tennessee that showed the candidates in a dead heat. The survey for Nashville and Chattanooga newspapers showed Bush at 46% and Gore at 43%, a statistical tossup, taking into account the poll's margin of error.

The Gore campaign's own bit of stagecraft involved his guests--from states that have a large number of electoral votes and are not considered to be locked in to one candidate yet--who offered Gore a few tips.

"Show your sincerity and genuineness," Ohio kindergarten teacher Susan Fadley said.

"You're at your best," Michigan high school principal Joseph Dulin told Gore, when voters "get to see you in a natural setting."

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Times political writer Cathleen Decker contributed to this story.

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