Sorry, No Phone Book for Debater Dubya

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Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush shakes hands with supporters

It's all over but the shouting. Preparations at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts, site of the first round of the 2000 presidential debates, are winding down. And so are the last-minute arrangements in the Bush and Gore camps: The rehearsals, the tie selections (is an American flag too much?), the nagging worries (will there be a glass of water waiting or do I have to risk pouring it myself and spilling it all over the podium?) have been confronted.

With just over 24 hours remaining until the most overhyped television event since, well, the Olympics, the candidates are probably feeling the strain. Maybe they just want to get it over with. Perhaps they'll go see a movie Monday night to take their minds off the whole thing. Conceivably they're both feeling quite nauseated.

But at least they know the arrangements have all been made. With painstaking precision, each campaign raised its concerns, which were addressed by the debate coordinators, who in turn unveiled their decisions to increasingly anxious campaign managers. Here, thanks to the New York Times, are just a few of the "issues" already addressed backstage....

  • The temperature in the gymnasium housing the debate will be a carefully regulated 65 degrees. Not so cold as to require Bush to wear his Yale scarf (thereby infuriating the partisan Boston audience) but cool enough to waylay Gore's sweat glands' unfortunate tendency to overreact under pressure.

  • Despite Bush's relatively diminutive stature (he stands about two inches shorter than Gore), the governor will not be permitted to stand on a phone book (or anything else) in an attempt to even out the height differential. No word on whether his loafers will be checked for lifts.

  • Gore wants to be able to wander the stage with a portable microphone. But Bush doesn't want Gore to be able to pull any of that Phil Donahue/Liddy Dole/schmoozing-the-audience stuff. And the win goes to Bush: The microphones will remain securely affixed to the podiums.

  • Bush wanted his old pal Larry King to moderate the debates. And he wanted them to be in a "free-flowing format." He was disappointed on both counts. But this week, his staff did manage to negotiate a cushion of time into the normally rigid debate format. Just in case he wants to say a little something spontaneous...

And so now you know: If you see Gore stalking around the stage or Bush standing suspiciously tall tomorrow night, you'll know somebody broke at least one of their campaign promises.