Debate formats announced

Campaigns agree to format and rules for the three presidential debates.

Published August 21, 2008 1:55PM (EDT)

The Obama and McCain campaigns have agreed to debate formats. As a reminder, there will be three presidential debates: at the University of Mississippi, hosted by Jim Lehrer on Sept. 26; at Belmont Univerity, hosted by Tom Brokaw on Oct. 7; and at Hofstra University, hosted by Bob Schieffer on Oct. 15; plus one vice-presidential debate on Oct. 2 at Washington University at St. Louis.

According to a joint statement released by both campaigns, the first (Lehrer) and third (Schieffer) debates will "will be broken into nine, 9-minute segments. The moderator will introduce a topic and allow each candidate 2 minutes to comment. After these initial answers, the moderator will facilitate an open discussion of the topic for the remaining 5 minutes, ensuring that both candidates receive an equal amount of time to comment." At the end of the third debate, both candidates will also have 90 seconds for a closing statement.

The second, Brokaw-hosted debate will be in town hall format. "The moderator will call on members of the audience (and draw questions from the internet). Each candidate will have 2 minutes to respond to each question. Following those initial answers, the moderator will invite the candidates to respond to the previous answers, for a total of 1 minute, ensuring that both candidates receive an equal amount of time to comment. In the spirit of the Town Hall, all questions will come from the audience (or internet), and not the moderator."

Nothing revolutionary or new here. That town hall debate always has the potential to provide a surprise, or create a key, lasting moment. In theory, the town hall format ought to favor Obama, though he may want to go back and watch the old Bill Clinton video.

Final note: Each campaign was -- and still is, I suppose, should debates over debates arise -- represented in the presidential debate negotiations by a real bulldog, Lindsey Graham for McCain and Rahm Emanuel for Obama.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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