WASHINGTON - The campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry have tentatively settled on a package of three face-to-face debates that both sides view as a potentially decisive chance to sway huge audiences ahead of the Nov. 2 election, Democrats and Republicans said Sunday.
Bush’s campaign, which opened the weeklong negotiations by urging just two sessions involving Bush and Kerry, yielded to the full slate of debates that had been proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates, according to people in both parties who were briefed on the negotiations.
The final debate before the election is
scheduled for Oct. 13 at Arizona State University in Tempe. It was supposed to focus on foreign policy and Iraq, but now has shifted to domestic issues.
The first debate Sept. 30 in Florida will focus on foreign policy. Bush and Kerry will take questions from undecided voters at the town-meeting-style debate Oct. 8 in Missouri.
No agreement will be final until the two sides agree on details for the format of the town-meeting-style debate that Bush at first resisted but now is willing to endorse.
Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina will debate Oct. 5 in Ohio.
Each of the four debates will begin at 6 p.m. Arizona time and will run 90 minutes.
The officials, who declined to be identified because they were not supposed to be discussing the matter with reporters, would not say when an agreement will be announced.
Both campaigns refused to comment on the negotiations. Bush-Cheney communications director Nicolle Devenish said: ‘‘The campaign maintains its position that it will not negotiate the terms of the debates in the press.’’
The participants for the town meeting will be undecided voters from the St. Louis metropolitan area who are chosen by the Gallup Organization.
The Sept. 30 debate will be held at the University of Miami in Coral Gables and will be moderated by Jim Lehrer, anchor and executive editor of ‘‘The NewsHour’’ on PBS.
The Oct. 8 town-hall debate will be moderated by Charles Gibson, co-anchor of ABC’s ‘‘Good Morning America.’’
The last debate, on Oct. 13, will be held at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium in Tempe.
The Tempe questioner will be Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief Washington correspondent and moderator of ‘‘Face the Nation.’’
The Oct. 5 vice-presidential debate will be held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and moderated by Gwen Ifill, senior correspondent of ‘‘The NewsHour’’ and moderator of PBS’s ‘‘Washington Week.’’