Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Ground rules set for vice presidential debate
By Robert G. Kaiser
Monday, September 22, 2008
Washington —- Negotiators for the campaigns of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama agreed over the weekend on a format for the Oct. 2 debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden, resolving an issue left open in August after the campaigns settled on the structure of the three presidential debates.
Under the plan agreed to Saturday, Palin and Biden will have less time than McCain and Obama to reply to moderators’ questions and discuss each other’s answers. And Gwen Ifill of PBS, moderator of the vice presidential debate, will be given no guidelines as to subject matter, allowing her to mix in questions about foreign and domestic matters.
Both sides were reported to be satisfied with the final agreement.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the independent nonprofit organization that manages these quadrennial events, had hoped the campaigns would agree to the same longer segments for the vice presidential aspirants that were adopted in August for the presidential debates.
But in the negotiations, the Republicans wanted to limit the amount of time available for their neophyte candidate, Palin, to be questioned on a single topic.
Democrats, meanwhile, wanted to be sure Biden and Palin spoke from lecterns rather than sitting at a table the way Vice President Dick Cheney and his rivals in 2000 (Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut) and 2004 (Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina) did.
Both sides got what they wanted. Palin and Biden will each have 90 seconds to respond to questions, with a two-minute period for discussion between the candidates to follow.
The Democrats’ desire to put the vice presidential candidates behind lecterns grew out of the 2000 and 2004 vice presidential debates, when the candidates sat close to each other behind the same table. Cheney had the upper hand in both debates, said several Democrats involved in the debate process, in part because the setting made it difficult if not impossible for Lieberman and Edwards to go after Cheney aggressively.
Whether that was because of the setting or because the two Democrats wanted to avoid confrontation is a matter still disputed by participants.