June 18, 2004
President Bush and Sen. John Kerry will focus on the aftermath of the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism and other foreign policy topics during a 90-minute debate Oct. 13 in Tempe.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that two of this year’s three debates will be devoted to specific topics instead of a free-for-all exchange between the candidates and a moderator or panel of questioners.
The Oct. 13 debate in Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium at Arizona State University will focus on foreign policy, said commission spokeswoman Janet Brown.
This will be the first time in the 16-year history of the commission that there will be limits on debate issues. Brown said public responses from previous events showed audiences would like presidential candidates to have more time to talk about key topics.
Foreign policy was selected for the Tempe debate because it will be the commission’s last event before the Nov. 2 general election, Brown said.
"Given the very fluid nature of foreign policy, if there were developments that were occurring over the two-week space of the debates from start to finish, it would be advisable to have that . . . the primary focus of the last one," Brown said.
Questions have arisen about whether fund raising is on pace to cover local costs for hosting the debate. But Brown said ASU has fulfilled its financial commitments to the commission and no alternative sites were being considered.
The bipartisan commission has a historical track record on organizing debates for presidential and vice presidential candidates. But Bush and Kerry haven’t committed to the commission’s debate schedule, and spokesmen for both campaigns weren’t willing to discuss the formats announced Thursday.
Supporters for both candidates said the public will benefit from a deeper look at issues such as Iraq and the nature of global relations since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I certainly believe President Bush has done an outstanding job in leading us on the war on terror and defining foreign policy for this new and dangerous age," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.
Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson said he believes Bush will have a hard time defending his record before a national audience.
"There has been absolutely zero results in fighting terrorism by our activities in Iraq. If people are looking for hard evidence, a sense of what our accomplishments have been in foreign policy, then I certainly look forward to that debate," Pederson said.