Can a Debate Be Presidential in 2007?

Crowded debates among the major-party presidential candidate should be abandoned in favor of more extensive, head-to-head debates between just the nominees.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Last night's Republican presidential debate was certainly livelier and more contentious than the first one on May 3rd. And there are more to come next month in New Hampshire. The Democrats meet on June 3rd, and the Republicans on June 5th.

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says from what he saw last night, there are too many candidates and too many debates for the public good.

DANIEL SCHOOR: The 10-man candidate debate, to my mind, diminishes most of them and enhances none of them. It's understandable that the television networks have provided time, are interested in providing some drama. And so in South Carolina last night, most of the 10 Republicans were left to justify torture or something like it if needed to expose future terrorist plots.

It remained for the one certified victim of torture on the stage, Senator and former POW John McCain, to astute torture under any circumstances.

Responding to other questions about abortion, immigration, overspending, the candidates concentrated on burnishing their conservative credentials in this very conservative community.

One of the lesser-known candidates, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, broke ranks by suggesting that the United States may have invited the 9/11 attacks by bombing Iraq in the 1990s.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pounced on that as an extraordinary statement.

It strikes me that the public would be better served by ending the early candidate debates in favor of more extensive head-to-head debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees. I can remember such debates dating back to Nixon-Kennedy in 1960, as being more fruitful.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has come out with a proposal reviving an idea first offered in 1991 by a group of Harvard scholars. Professor Marvin Kalb outlines the idea in The New York Times. On nine Sundays, between Labor Day and Election Day, the nominees would debate major subjects, one each Sunday.

Gingrich says there would be no television celebrities cutting them off or treating them with disrespect. Among those supporting the idea are New York's former Governor Mario Cuomo and Mayor Giuliani. Kalb says the networks have the power to make this happen, but he asks do they have the guts?

This is Daniel Schorr.

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