Here's an Idea: Let's Have Those Debates After All

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Ready, set, debate: Gore and Bush agree on three dates

The great debate debate is over. After weeks of wrangling, hemming and hawing, George W. Bush and Al Gore have agreed to meet in three debates and to send their running mates to duke it out in a separate rendezvous. The schedule, which sets the first meeting on October 3, is the same as that initially proposed by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

Yes, that's right. After all this, they're going to meet in the original places, on the original dates. The format for the debates, Bush staffers maintain, is still up for negotiation. But that's pretty much the only x-factor remaining — a fact that leads to an obvious question: What exactly did Bush gain by stalling?

Not much. If anything, his noncompliance served to plant the sneaking suspicion that he's not comfortable meeting Gore in the traditional debate setting — a setting which, although dismissed by Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer as "rehearsed and wooden," provides a familiar and stable backdrop that voters have come to depend on over the last three presidential elections.

The debates, slated to take place in Boston (Oct. 3), Winston-Salem, N.C. (Oct. 11), and St. Louis (Oct. 17), will each last 90 minutes. No word yet on moderators — but it looks like Larry King and Tim Russert might be out of the running.