McCain, Obama deal puts limits on "town hall" debate

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WASHINGTON — Barack Obama and John McCain meet for a second debate Tuesday night with a “town hall” format, but a deal made between the camps limits the interaction the candidates will have with the undecided voters in the pool of questioners.

Almost every important detail about the debates — three presidential and one vice presidential — is governed by a 31-page “memorandum of understanding.” It was collegially negotiated between the Obama and McCain camps and covers everything from how the candidates are addressed to the permissible camera shots.

The campaign pact was worked out by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and attorney Robert Barnett, representing Obama, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Brett O’Donnell, a former debate coach at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, representing McCain.

Tuesday’s match-up at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., will be moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, with the questions to be culled from a group of 100 to 150 uncommitted likely voters in the audience and another one-third to come via the Internet. The Gallup Organization — as in past debates like this — has the job of making sure the questioners reflect the demographic makeup of the nation.

Brokaw selects the questions to ask from written queries submitted prior to the debate, according to the “contract.”

An audience member will not be allowed to switch questions. Under the deal, the moderator may not ask followups or make comments. The person who asks the question will not be allowed a follow-up either, and his or her microphone will be turned off after the question is read. A camera shot will only be shown of the person asking — not reacting.

While there will be director’s chairs (with backs and foot rests), McCain and Obama will be allowed to stand — but they can’t roam past their “designated area” to be marked on the stage. McCain and Obama are not supposed to ask each other direct questions.

As in all the debates, the contenders cannot bring in notes, though they can take them once at the lectern.

Sarah Palin seemed to be looking at notes several times during her debate with Joe Biden. Each candidate is allowed to “take notes during the debate on the size, color and type of blank paper that each prefers.”

And I’ll dub this the “Lazio” rule.

A reason Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) lost his Senate bid against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000 was when he walked from his lectern to Clinton and demanded that she sign a pledge not to take soft money, he looked like a bully. Anyway, in 2008, the candidates are banned during the debates from moving to the other side — and from wielding proposed pledges.

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