McCain, Obama to debate foreign policy at Ole Miss on Sept. 26
In what could turn into a duel of “told you so” and “did not…did too,” the first presidential debate, hosted by the University of Mississippi in Oxford on Sept. 26, will focus on foreign policy and national security.
That represents an unexpected change from the domestic-issue theme the Commission on Presidential Debates had promised Ole Miss, which will hold the debate at the Gertrude C. Ford Center.
The switch comes as a result of negotiations between presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama (D-IL) and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain (R-AZ), both U.S. Senators. Their campaign staffs reached an agreement on the format of the debates and released a statement Thursday morning.
Public television news anchor Jim Lehrer will moderate the debate.
The second presidential debate, being held at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 7, will follow a Town Hall format with no set theme. Tom Brokaw of NBC News will moderate.
According to the statement: “Campaign-appointed debate negotiators House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said they were pleased to have reached an early agreement to provide the American people with the opportunity to see and hear the candidates debate the critical issues facing the country.”
The campaigns claim it is “the earliest agreement on presidential debates reached in any general election in recent history,” but for Ole Miss the switch comes late in their preparations for the debate.
The Commission on Presidential Debates long ago instructed Ole Miss that the first debate would focus on domestic issues, and university has planned forums and events based on domestic issues.
Andy Mullins, executive assistant to the chancellor and the university’s point man on the debates, said the change is a huge surprise. He said the first he heard about any proposed switch came when he got a call at 7:45 a.m. on Thursday, while moving his daughter into her dorm room.
“We aren’t planning on changing any of our events,” Mullins said.
For example, on Aug. 28, Dr. Dan Jones, immediate past president of the American Heart Association and vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the medical school at the UM Medical Center, is discussing health care in America in his lecture, “Health Care Disparities in the American Health Care System.”
The change in formats will mean the first debate, which usually draws the largest audience but may not this year because it is being held on a Friday, will likely be dominated by discussions of Iraq, Afghanistan and proper responses to the Russia-Georgia conflict.
Expect McCain to trumpet his support of the so-called “surge” in troops in Iraq, and Obama to volley back by pointing out the Bush Administration and the Iraqis are now agreeing to the timetables he has called for since 2007 in order to adjust the focus to securing Afghanistan.
Obama and McCain will almost certainly spar over who was right or wrong in pushing for the 2003 invasion of Iraq in order to establish a democracy in the Middle East (McCain) or opposing it because of misgivings over intelligence and a potential quagmire and thouands of deaths for U.S. troops (Obama).
McCain has also signaled he would urge a more confrontational U.S. response to Russia for its military actions in Georgia; Obama and a Sen. Joe Biden, considered one of the front-runners for the imminent vice-presidential pick, have urged $1 billion in aid to rebuild Georgia and support its democratic institutions.
Filed under: Presidentual Race 2008