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Turns Out, There Are Rules For The Debates. Lots

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Turns Out, There Are Rules For The Debates. Lots

Presidential Race

Turns Out, There Are Rules For The Debates. Lots

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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When President Obama and Governor Romney to meet for their third presidential debate tomorrow, there will be some rules for the candidates, and the audience.

JIM LEHRER: Absolute silence.

MARTIN: That's Jim Lehrer of PBS, talking to the audience before this year's first presidential debate. But that is not the only debate rule. This past week, Time magazine's Mark Halperin posted online the agreed-upon debate rules. It's a 21-page document known as a Memorandum of Understanding.

So, we found out that when Governor Romney said this at the second debate...

MITT ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?

MARTIN: That was a violation of...

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Article Five, Paragraph E: The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates.

MARTIN: And when President Obama did this...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It'll be just one second because...


OBAMA: ...this is important.

MARTIN: Moderator Candy Crowley was trying to follow Article Five, Paragraph I, Subsection 1.

TOTENBERG: In each debate, the moderator shall enforce all time limits.

MARTIN: But as we found out, the memorandum also includes provisions for proper titles.

TOTENBERG: Article Five, Paragraph G, President Obama shall be addressed by the moderator as Mr. President or President Obama. Governor Romney shall be addressed by the moderator as Governor or Governor Romney.

MARTIN: And then there was air conditioning.

TOTENBERG: Article Nine, Paragraph A, Subsection Nine, The Commission shall use best efforts to maintain an appropriate temperature as agreed to by the campaigns.

MARTIN: Even props.

TOTENBERG: Article Nine, Paragraph B, Subsection One: No candidate shall be permitted to use risers or any other device to create an impression of elevated height.

MARTIN: These kinds of rules are not new to this campaign. Many are holdovers from past debates. We wanted to find out how far back, so we called...

DOUGLAS WILSON: Douglas Wilson. I'm the co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College.

MARTIN: Lincoln Studies as in Abraham Lincoln. Like Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, the future President Lincoln and then-Senator Stephen Douglas met for a series of debates in 1858. But before they ever took the stage they haggled over the rules like timing.

WILSON: One person speaks for an hour. The second person speaks for an hour and a half. And the first person gets a half-hour rejoinder.

MARTIN: But 21 pages of sections and sub-sections? Professor Wilson says probably not.


WILSON: I don't think anybody would've proposed that 'cause the other guy would certainly have used it to make fun of them.

MARTIN: And back then, the crowd could yell and heckle the candidates all debate long. Well, because they didn't have Jim Lehrer.

LEHRER: Absolute silence.

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