CANDIDATES SEE RED OVER RULES
They made the rules but that doesn't
mean they liked them.
``Let's change the rules,''
a smiling Sen. John F. Kerry suggested partway into last night's debate
as President Bush requested more time to answer, adding it would spark
a more freewheeling discussion.
The presidential candidates chafed
under the highly restrictive rules governing the debate, at times seemingly
stretching their answers to fit the time requirements but far more often
asking for extra seconds for rebuttals.
The candidates also could not
directly question each other, but the two attacked each other's policies
and judgment often enough to allow a sense of some back-and-forth or point,
According to rules negotiated
by both campaigns, each candidate had two minutes to answer a question,
followed by a 90-second rebuttal. They could have an extra 30-second response
only if allowed by moderator Jim Lehrer, a request he usually granted.
Bush signaled several times
to Lehrer that he wanted extra time, an exasperated look on his face as
Kerry wrapped up an answer.
Perhaps trying to fight his
reputation for being long-winded, Kerry tended to stop his answer just
as his time had expired. During one answer, Kerry said, ``I see we have
just a little bit more time,'' before extending his response.
For the first time in a presidential
debate, the candidates had to obey a series of colored lights on their
podium - visible to the TV audience - that showed their time was running
out. With 30 seconds to go in the allotted two minutes, a green light
went on, followed by yellow with 15 seconds, red at five seconds and flashing
red after time ran out.
A backup buzzer system designed
to cut off any further answer was never used.
A dispute arose over the lights
yesterday, when the Kerry campaign said their placement on the podiums
was too distracting and demanded they be removed. But the Commission on
Presidential Debates denied the request.
Bush and Kerry also abided
by a ban on challenging each other to make a pledge of any sort and on
moving from behind their podiums.
In negotiations over the rules,
the Kerry camp's main goal was to secure a third town hall-style debate,
but that meant yielding on some of the debate format, for instance, allowing
follow-ups to be sharply limited.