Negotiators for President Reagan and Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale neared agreement yesterday on televised debates between the presidential candidates and between their running mates.
White House chief of staff James A. Baker III said that more than one hour of discussion with Mondale campaign chairman James A. Johnson led to "some pretty good progress" on a package of agreements.
Another White House official said the package was "almost certain" to include two debates between Reagan and Mondale and one between Vice President Bush and Geraldine A. Ferraro.
However, Baker and Johnson said the two sides still had some differences, on which they declined to elaborate. The two sides have been at odds over the debates' timing, format and length.
Baker said negotiators "closed the gap" on the differences and "made common ground" in some areas but had not completed a package and would not announce a "piecemeal" agreement.
"We made some good progress," Baker said. "We've going to meet together later in the week and talk by telephone in the meantime and see if we can't close this thing up."
Johnson said, "I think we did make a little progress today."
Yesterday's meeting was the sixth since Aug. 31.
Political operatives for both sides have said the imperatives of the campaign are driving negotiations toward an early agreement.
Reagan's campaign would like to have the debates early so the president can return to his campaign themes.
Mondale is far behind in many polls, and his managers are hoping that an early debate will energize his campaign.
Mondale's strategists would like a format in which the candidates confront each other. Reagan's aides prefer questioning by a panel of reporters.