September 30, 1996 in Nation/World

Clinton To Prepare For Debates President’s Schedule For Study Thrown Off By Mideast Crisis

Associated Press

A three-day escape from White House pressures and a three-ringed binder crammed with notes are key ingredients in President Clinton’s preparations for Sunday’s leadoff debate with Bob Dole.

Already, though, Clinton’s plans have been thrown off by the worst violence between Palestinians and Israelis since the 1967 Mideast war.

The president was to have had a light schedule this week, with Sunday and today off, to allow time for debate study. That changed, though, when Clinton invited Mideast leaders to an emergency White House meeting on Tuesday to try to restore peace.

“The president has to order his priorities as he sees fit and this is his priority, right now,” presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said.

Even so, Clinton is expected to go into seclusion Thursday through Saturday at the Lake Chautauqua Institute in New York to cram and practice for the first 90-minute debate, beginning at 9 p.m. EDT in Hartford, Conn., on Sunday, according to his campaign.

“It’s important to get his head into this and that he’s not tired,” a senior adviser said. “It’s important that we get him down.”

After some last-minute squabbles over the debate format, an agreement was signed Saturday locking in the details of two presidential debates - Oct. 6 and Oct. 16 - and one vice presidential debate, Oct. 9.

Dole, the Republican nominee, already has spent several days this past week preparing at his seaside condominium at Bal Harbour, Fla. His schedule calls for him to return there for three days this week for the final polish on what the campaign hopes will be a breakthrough debate performance.

“The debates are very important. It’s the one opportunity that a lot of people have to listen to both candidates,” Dole said Saturday.

Historically, debates have been important in some - but not all - elections. In 1960, they provided a defining advantage for John F. Kennedy over Richard M. Nixon. In 1976, Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Nixon and his debate gaffe about Soviet domination of Poland gave an edge to Jimmy Carter.

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