updated 7/15/2004 12:29:11 PM ET 2004-07-15T16:29:11

Democrat John Kerry on Thursday accepted an independent commission’s schedule for three presidential debates and one vice presidential showdown.

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“These commission debates have become an important tradition in presidential campaigns and voters depend on them to help inform their choice,” Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said in a statement.

Presidential debates are traditionally preceded by delicate negotiations and attempts by both campaigns to manage expectations. By accepting the commission’s recommendation, Kerry has opened the bidding for this year’s debates.

Bush’s staff could not be reached immediately.

Cahill accused the Bush campaign of waiting until the last minute to agree to three presidential debates in 2000, which she said was a tactic designed to “lower expectations about Bush’s debate skills and performance. In the end, Bush was declared the winner of each of the three debates against Vice President Al Gore.”

There was no formal winner declared after the 2000 debates, though most strategists from both parties believe Gore hurt his prospects.

Cahill’s statement continues another debate tradition: campaign aides setting the bar high for their opponents.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has proposed limiting two of the three debates by topic. The first meeting on Sept. 30 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., will deal with domestic policy. The third on Oct. 13, on the subject of foreign affairs, is scheduled to be held at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The second forum on Oct. 8 would be a town hall-style format at Washington University in St. Louis where undecided voters question the candidates on any issue.

The commission proposed a single debate between the vice presidential nominees on Oct. 5 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, to cover the full range of issues.

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