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Des Moines Register: Candidates will question each other in Iowa debate

By Jeff Zeleny/Des Moines Register

December 9, 1999
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)

Des Moines RegisterDES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) -- The six GOP presidential candidates learned Wednesday that they will be allowed to question one another during Monday's nationally televised debate in Des Moines.

"We don't want it to be predictable," said Al Setka, news director of WHO-TV, which is sponsoring the debate. "Good television is never predictable."

The format of the 90-minute debate will be announced today, Setka said.

The forum will include up to five segments, including questions from moderators John Bachman and NBC's Tom Brokaw, as well as pre-selected questions from Iowans.

Bachman, lead anchor at WHO, Des Moines' NBC affiliate, met Wednesday with Brokaw in New York to work out details. The debate, to be broadcast at 7 p.m. from the Civic Center in Des Moines, will be seen nationally on MSNBC and on NBC stations across Iowa.

The debate format is important, because candidates who are trailing in the polls will be trying to come up with questions and strategies aimed at derailing the front-runner.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush has the most to lose. During a debate this week in Arizona, some pundits criticized him for giving curt, rehearsed answers taken from stump speeches.

When Bush and other candidates accepted the invitation to the WHO debate, campaigns were told there would be no candidate-to-candidate questioning. But campaign aides said the national network insisted on head-to-head dialogue.

The format change makes little difference for the Bush campaign, a spokesman said. "The governor is prepared for whatever comes his way," said Eric Woolson, Bush's chief Iowa spokesman.

Candidate Steve Forbes likes the dueling format. "When candidates ask each other questions, your responses have to be driven by your vision, not a TelePrompTer or a cue card," said Bob Haus, Forbes' Iowa campaign manager.


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Thursday, December 9, 1999

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