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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

2 Debates to Be Limited by Topic

June 18, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Questions about American foreign policy, including the U.S. role in Iraq, will dominate the final debate between the presidential candidates just three weeks before voters head to the polls this fall.

For the first time, the Commission on Presidential Debates is limiting two of the three debates by topic, reserving the first meeting, on Sept. 30, for domestic policy and the third, on Oct. 13, for foreign affairs.

"The issue here is it basically allows more in-depth conversation and follow-up and encourages a direct exchange between the candidates without the moderator having to worry" about balancing the questions, commission co-chairman Paul Kirk said at a news conference Thursday.

The second forum, on Oct. 8, will have a town hall-style format, where a group of undecided voters will question the candidates on any issue. Following the custom in past election cycles, the nonpartisan commission did not consult with any of the presidential campaigns before devising its plan.

Kirk said the candidates may negotiate changes, but he expects President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee, to accept the conditions and participate in all three debates.

A single debate between the vice-presidential nominees, on Oct. 5, will cover the full range of issues.

The Bush and Kerry campaigns declined to comment on the schedule or discuss whether their candidates would participate in all the debates.

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