U.S. commission schedules 2008 presidential debates

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top candidates for the White House should meet in three debates beginning on September 26, 2008, which would feature extended discussions and the chance to directly address each other, the panel sponsoring the debates recommended on Monday.

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) greet audience members at the conclusion of the CNN/Nevada Democratic Party debate in at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas November 15, 2007. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The first debate would be at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, with the second on October 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and the third on October 15 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

A debate between vice presidential contenders is scheduled for October 2, 2008, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which administers the general election encounters.

The schedule leading up to November 4 general election is similar to the debates in 2004 between Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry. The final schedule and formats must be agreed to by the eventual nominees of each party and any participating third-party candidates.

Third-party candidates who average 15 percent support in polls will be invited to take part, the commission said.

The first and last of the 90-minute presidential debates, and the vice presidential debate, will be divided into 8-minute issue segments, allowing the candidates to discuss selected topics, answer follow-ups from a moderator and directly address each other.

The first presidential debate would focus on domestic policy, and the third would focus on foreign policy.

“Loosening the constraints within the 90-minute debates will allow for more serious examination of complicated questions,” Paul Kirk, co-chairman of the commission, told reporters.

The second presidential debate will feature a town hall format where voters ask questions on any topic. Questions also will be submitted over the Internet.

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York leads the Democratic presidential field in polls six weeks before the first nominating contest in Iowa, while former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Republicans.

The commission was established in 1987 to sponsor and administer the presidential election debates, and since then has run debates in each White House election campaign.

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at

Written by John Whitesides; editing by David Wiessler