- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2000

The much-anticipated debates between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will be staged this fall and telecast nationally on MSNBC, NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert confirmed yesterday.

The one-hour contests will take place on two of three dates that have been set aside: Sept. 11, Oct. 9 and Oct. 30, all Mondays. They will begin at 7 p.m., Mr. Russert said yesterday.

"It's hard to schedule at those times because of the Olympics and the baseball playoffs," Mr. Russert said. "But it is now just a matter of logistics."

One of the debates will be held in Buffalo, N.Y., and the other in New York City.

Mr. Russert will pose the questions to the candidates. He also moderated Republican presidential-primary debates in New Hampshire and Michigan.

The announcement ends months of bickering between the two campaigns over the details of the much-ballyhooed showdown.

The dispute has also included a fight over who offered to debate in the first place.

Mrs. Clinton's campaign confirmed its approval of the meetings in a letter to the Giuliani camp yesterday. The confirmation characterized the idea of the debates as that of the first lady.

"As you know," wrote Clinton campaign manager Bill de Blasio, "on February 22 in Buffalo, Hillary challenged Mr. Giuliani to debate and she looks forward to a full exchange of ideas with him."

Mr. Giuliani has invited the first lady to debate several times over the past several months, countered Giuliani campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum.

"A typical cheap shot," Mr. Teitelbaum called the letter yesterday. "I get an offer from Russert, we accept. I mention it to de Blasio, and he more or less thumbs his nose at me, then never responds until today."

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson dismissed the comments and said that "the bottom line here is that Hillary has been talking about the issues all across the state and has agreed to debate."

He added: "This gives Mayor Giuliani plenty of time to start studying up on the issues. Maybe by the time of the debates, he'll actually know what he'll do in the Senate."

The exchange indicates the passion of the race, exactly what will give the debates appeal nationwide rather than merely in New York, said Norm Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

"For New Yorkers, there are issues, but fundamentally, you are talking about two remarkably talented personalities who are major players on a national stage," Mr. Ornstein said.

Someone will inevitably lose his temper during the contests, he said.

"The one you anticipate doing that is Giuliani, who is not as self-disciplined," he said.

Both candidates are known for their acerbic wit and feisty dispositions. Mr. Giuliani, a former prosecutor, is accustomed to making points in quick order. Mrs. Clinton, also a lawyer, can rely on her well-known ability to cite facts.

"This isn't just news. This is going to be great entertainment," said Bill McLaughlin, professor of communications at Quinnipiac College in Connecticut.

"Rudy may not be that big in Kansas or Nebraska, but Hillary is either loved or hated everywhere in the country. And they are both really vicious, dirty fighters."

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