Commission on Presidential Debates Hails 2008 Formats as “Historic Breakthrough”

Sep 21, 2008

Washington, D.C.- Paul G. Kirk, Jr. and Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., the co-chairmen of The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), today announced the finalized formats of the 2008 presidential and vice presidential debates agreed to by the Obama and McCain campaigns, calling them “a breakthrough in the history of televised debates.”

Kirk, Jr. and Fahrenkopf said, “In a year when unprecedented voter interest in the general election debates is anticipated, the CPD is pleased that the major party campaigns have essentially embraced the goals and breakthrough formats proposed by the CPD.”

When proposed in November 2007, Kirk and Fahrkenkopf said, “Our mission is to promote voter education. The public deserves to hear and see the candidates offer and defend their positions on the critical issues facing our country in the most thoughtful and in-depth manner that television time constraints will allow. Loosening the constraints within the ninety minutes debate will allow for more serious examination of complicated questions. This change will also open the possibility of the moderator inviting candidates to question each other. We want voters to benefit from as full an explanation of a topic as possible, and we feel certain that the candidates will welcome this change for the same reason.”

Today, Kirk and Fahrenkopf said, “Indeed, both campaigns, without public controversy, with quiet cooperation and with minor revisions, have agreed to CPD’s proposal that each debate will be divided into issue segments allowing time for each candidate to comment on that issue followed by a free-flow conversation/ discussion between the candidates including the possibility of direct exchange between the candidates.”

Kirk and Fahrenkopf added, “These formats are an historic breakthrough in the history of televised debates. Televised debates have been hampered by restrictive time limits resulting in scripted, poll-tested, bumper sticker responses. In 2008, when stakes are higher than ever, issues more complex than ever, voter interest more intense than ever, voter education calls for a more expansive discussion between the leading candidates for president and vice president of the United States on the issues confronting America. The Commission commends Senators Obama and McCain for their understanding and acceptance of this need.”

The Commission’s presidential debate formats were negotiated prior to the conventions of the major parties. The vice presidential format was negotiated following the vice president selections and was finalized Saturday. The vice presidential debate will embrace the same structure as the presidential debates. However, the discussion period for the vice presidential debate will necessarily be shorter than that of presidential debates. The presidential debates will devote one 90 minute debate exclusively to foreign policy and one 90 minute debate exclusively to domestic policy. The only vice presidential debate will include both foreign and domestic issues within a 90 minute format. The vice presidential format will also allow two minutes for each candidate to offer a closing statement. Town meeting, the format for the second presidential debate, was first introduced in 1992 and has proven very popular with the viewing public. This year the moderator will include questions submitted by Internet at with questions from the citizen participants.

The detailed schedule of the CPD sponsored debates is as follows (all debates start at 9:00 p.m. EDT):

First presidential debate: foreign policy and national security, moderated by Jim Lehrer
Friday, September 26, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.

-Two-minute answers, followed by five-minute discussion for each question.

Vice presidential debate: all topics, moderated by Gwen Ifill
Thursday, October 2, Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

-Ninety-second answers, followed by two-minute discussion for each question. Two-minute closing statements.

Second presidential debate: all topics in town meeting format, moderated by Tom Brokaw
Tuesday, October 7, Belmont University, Nashville, TN

-Two-minute answers, followed by one-minute discussion for each question.

Third presidential debate: the economy and domestic policy, moderated by Bob Schieffer
Wednesday, October 15, Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

-Two-minute answers, followed by five-minute discussion for each question. Two-minute closing statements.