US Presidential Debate Rules Are Set Even Without Commitments From Candidates

(Bloomberg) -- The non-partisan commission that hosts debates for US presidential elections released its 2024 calendar on Monday, but the decades-old tradition of general election debates could be upended by boycotts and third-party candidates.

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The Commission on Presidential Debates scheduled three presidential debates — plus a separate debate for vice presidential candidates — in the fall of 2024. That now-familiar format could be tested, though, as Republicans and Democrats alike have become skeptical of the arrangement.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has said the Republican party would boycott the debates over perceived unfairness by the hosts and moderators, though the ultimate decision could be up to the party’s eventual nominee. President Joe Biden, too, has not yet committed to debates.

And the qualification rules could throw another wrinkle into the dynamic: The commission said third-party candidates can participate as long as they’re constitutionally qualified, will appear on state ballots representing at least 270 electoral votes, and are averaging at least 15% in a series of national polls leading up to the invitations going out in September.

Those criteria are unchanged since at least the 2000 election, but 2024 could produce a third candidate who could meet them for the first time since Ross Perot in 1992. Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is polling at 14.7% in the RealClearPolitics average, and the centrist group No Labels is also laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign.

The debate schedule as released by the commission Monday:

  • The first presidential debate at Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas on Sept. 16

  • The vice presidential debate at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, Sept. 25

  • The second presidential debate at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia on Oct. 1

  • The third presidential debate University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 9

The Virginia State debate will be the first ever hosted by a historically Black college or university.

Each debate will start at 9 p.m. New York time and will run for 90 minutes without commercial interruption. The moderators and formats haven’t been determined, but historically one debate has had a town hall-style format.

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