The debate over the debates must end -- soon.
That's the gist of a stern letter the Commission on Presidential Debates sent yesterday the campaigns of President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.
The commission, which coordinates the quadrennial event, told the campaigns they must settle their differences over the fall debate schedule by Monday if the group is to meet a variety of logistical deadlines.
"These are very demanding, exacting television productions," said Janet Brown, the commission's executive director. "It isn't something you can turn around and do overnight."
The organization sent a similar letter to the campaigns last week, but Brown said it has not heard from either side.
The commission has proposed holding three presidential debates and one for the vice presidential contenders. The first is scheduled for Sept. 30 in Coral Gables, Fla. The others are slated for Oct. 5, Oct. 8 and Oct. 13.
Former secretary of state James A. Baker III, the president's debate negotiator, and attorney Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who is handling the negotiations for Kerry, continued their discussions yesterday. The Kerry campaign agreed to the commission's schedule earlier this summer, but the Bush campaign has taken no official position -- except that there will be debates.
There were hints yesterday that the two sides were closing in on an agreement and an announcement could be made soon.
International Monitors Have Landed Here
The Bush-Kerry race might not, at first glance, seem to have much in common with tumultuous past elections in places such as Haiti, Nicaragua and East Timor. But come Nov. 3, the United States will share a distinction with those countries: It will join the ranks of nations whose elections were overseen by international monitors.
Responding to the 2000 presidential deadlock, at least two international groups plan to monitor the Nov. 2 U.S. elections.
A delegation for Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based nongovernmental organization that has monitored elections in 10 countries, arrived here this week. The group will fan out to several swing states to investigate what spokesman Jason Mark said were serious and deepening concerns about minority disenfranchisement, the integrity of electronic voting machines and other issues that have "undermined confidence" in U.S. elections. Mark called the effort "unprecedented."
The group's 20-person team includes: Brigalia Bam, chairwoman of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa; Damaso Guerrero Magbual, who heads the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, the oldest election monitoring group in Asia; and Caerwyn Dwyfor Jones, a county election official in Wales who helped supervise Cambodia's first free elections as well as elections in other countries.
For the first time, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe also plans to observe the U.S. elections.