Bush hopes for prime-time debate with rival Gore


Republican White House hopeful George W. Bush on Wednesday declared himself eager for prime time televised debates with Democratic rival Al Gore but resisted formally agreeing to a format proposed by a special bipartisan panel. Asked in his first on air/online interview whether he would square off with Gore in three debates tentatively set for October, Bush told CNN.com during a half-hour of questioning: “I intend to. You bet.” While such televised showdowns rarely make or break presidential candidates, Gore has accused Bush of trying to “duck” them this year, when they could play a more significant role because the two are in a dead heat ahead of the November 7 vote. “I look forward to the debates. I do. And I would hope more people watch them than before … I’ve got something to say, and people are going to find there’s a stark contrast between me and my opponent,” Bush insisted. “We’re in the process now of discussing the times with the different networks,” added the Texas governor, who was peppered with queries from a CNN reporter as well as over the Internet from viewers across the United States. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan panel, has proposed that the two candidates square off in three televised debates, October 3 in Boston, Massachusetts; October 11 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and October 17 in St. Louis, Missouri. The vice presidential candidates, Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, would face each other in a similar contest on October 5. Gore — widely seen as a more experienced debater — has accepted the panel’s recommendations, but Bush has not formally agreed, saying only that his camp would review some 50 debate proposals. In response to another query, the governor vowed “I’m not going to attack President (Bill) Clinton” but strongly suggested he would step up his attacks on Gore and the “squandered” opportunities of the pair’s eight years in office. Asked about his Internet use, the governor said “I’m an e-mail person,” saying that he frequently sent messages to his brothers, including Jeb Bush, the Republican governor of Florida. And the Texas governor insisted that he would be as capable a leader as Gore in world affairs, saying “I consider myself fully prepared to lead.” “I want to build up our alliances. But we can’t be all things to all people. We can’t be peacekeepers in every place around the nation. I want our nation to be well-focused and to have exit strategies when we commit troops,” he said.