There will be debates

It's official. There will be debates.

John McCain and Barack Obama have issued a joint statement accepting the schedule proposed months ago by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. There never was any real doubt that this would happen. But normally, a lot of dancing, maneuvering and even name-calling goes on before the candidates and their handlers reach an agreement. Not this time.

The first debate is set for Sept. 26, a Friday night, which is unusual and may impact the size of the audience. It will focus on foreign policy and national security and will consist primarily of nine segments, each lasting nine minutes and devoted to a particular topic. The site is the University of Mississippi. The moderator is Jim Lehrer of PBS.

Then comes the vice-presidential debate, Oct. 2, at Washington University in St. Louis. Moderator is Gwen Ifill of PBS. Like all the debates, this one will last 90 minutes and start at 9 p.m.

The second presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 7, at Belmont University in Nashville. This will be a town hall format with questions coming from a selected audience and, perhaps, from the internet. Moderator is Tom Brokaw of NBC.

The third and final presidential debate comes Oct. 15 at Hofstra University on Long Island. The format is the same as the first, with the nine segments, but the focus will be on domestic and economic policy.

So if you're a political junkie, or just an interested voter, you know what you'll be doing those nights. By the way, both candidates have accepted the commission's participation rules for other candidates -- meaning, in all likelihood, that the likes of Ralph Nader and Bob Barr will be kept out.

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