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Bush, Gore Agree to Appear In Three Presidential Debates

By Mark Z. Barabak

and Scott Martelle
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Acting with unusual dispatch, George W. Bush and Al Gore ended their debate over debates Thursday after the Texas governor capitulated and agreed to three joint appearances to be televised next month in prime time.

Proxies for the two presidential candidates reached agreement after a four-hour meeting in Washington with officials of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, the organizing committee that Bush initially spurned in an effort to set terms more to his liking.

Both sides pronounced themselves pleased with the agreement, which leaves many details -- including the formats -- still to be decided. Talks between William Daley, manager of Gore’s campaign, and Donald Evans, Bush’s campaign chairman, are set to resume Friday.

“The governor said from the get-go that he wanted to have three debates before the largest audience possible,” said Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.

For his part, Chris Lehane, Gore’s spokesman, insisted, “It’s not about Al Gore. It’s not about George W. Bush.

“It’s about the American people and guaranteeing that the largest number of people will get to see the debates, because there are critical issues that ought to be discussed.”

High-minded statements aside, most analysts chalked up the outcome as a victory for Democrat Gore, who has been surging in polls. The vice president insisted Bush join him in all three commission-sponsored debates, and the GOP nominee faced further pressure from inside his own party, as voters seemed to blame Bush for the impasse.

The commission, established in 1987 to avoid the candidate back-and-forth of the past few weeks, has sponsored every general election debate since 1988.

Charles Cook, a Washington-based campaign analyst, said the settlement gave Bush “the worst of both worlds.”

“He capitulated just like we thought he would,” Cook said.