Questions and answers on presidential debates
Washington • Tired of being deluged with TV commercials telling you that President Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney "approved this message?" The candidates will deliver their message for themselves Wednesday night in the first of three head-to-head presidential debates.
Some questions and answers about the debates:
Q. Who opens and closes?
A. Obama gets the first question Wednesday. Romney gets the last word. The order was determined by a coin toss.
Q. What is the focus Wednesday night?
A. Domestic issues the economy, health care, the role of government and governing.
Q. Where are the debates being held?
A. Wednesday night's is at the University of Denver. To follow: A vice presidential debate Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky.; the second presidential debate Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.; the third presidential debate Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Q. How long are the debates?
A. Ninety minutes. Each debate begins at 9 p.m. EDT and ends at 10:30 p.m.
Q. What is the format for Wednesday's debate?
A. There are no opening statements. The candidates will have two-minute closings. The domestic policy debate will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each. The moderator will open each segment with a question, and the candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment to hopefully facilitate a lively debate.
Q. What about the format for the remaining debates?
A. The vice presidential debate will cover both foreign and domestic topics and be divided into nine segments of approximately 10 minutes each. The moderator will ask an opening question, and each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion.
The second presidential debate will be a town hall format. Audience members will ask questions on foreign and domestic topics. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion.
The final presidential debate will follow the format of the first debate, except the focus will be on foreign policy.
Q. Who are the moderators?
A. For Wednesday's debate, it's Jim Lehrer, executive editor of the PBS NewsHour. The vice presidential debate moderator will be Martha Raddatz, senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News. Candy Crowley, chief political correspondent for CNN and "State of the Union" anchor will moderate the second presidential debate. The third presidential debate will be moderated by Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent of CBS News and moderator of "Face the Nation."
Q. Who picks the specific topics for each segment?
A. The moderator.
Q. Who runs the debates?
A. The Commission on Presidential Debates, established in 1987. The organization is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, tax-exempt corporation. It has sponsored debates since 1988. The co-chairs are Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Michael McCurry, a former White House press secretary for Bill Clinton.
Q. Is Crowley the first woman to moderate a presidential debate?
A. No. Former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson did it in 1992. The candidates then were President George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
Q. What is the record of diversity among moderators?
A. Presidential debate moderators Simpson and ex-CNN anchor Bernard Shaw are African-Americans. Another African-American, PBS' Gwen Ifill, moderated two vice presidential debates. There has never been an Asian or Latino moderator. Shaw moderated a presidential debate in 1988 and a vice presidential debate in 2000, and Ifill moderated in 2004 and 2008.