Bush To Gore: Bring It On

Now that the GOP convention is over and his rail campagn has begun, George W. Bush says he is eager for one-on-one debates with Vice President Al Gore.

"I view it as an opportunity to talk about what I believe for the country," Bush said.

He suggested he could more than hold his own, even though he views Gore as "a very good debater."

"The first thing about a debate is to know what you believe. And I know what I believe," he said in an interview with The Associated Press aboard his campaign train.

However, he has yet to consider the format of such debates, how many there should be, or whether third-party candidates Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader should be included in at least one.

As for debates, Bush said, "I want to debate my opponent. I think it's going to be healthy for our country to have debates. And we'll have debates."

Still, he indicated he wasn't ready to sign on to any to any specific format.

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has tentatively set three presidential debates: Oct. 3 in Boston, Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oct. 17 in St. Louis. The vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 5 in Danville, Ky.

However, the campaigns can negotiate specifics.

He called Gore's suggestion during the primaries for twice weekly debates "a little extreme."

He said he believes he'll be well-prepared. "I've got an exhaustive set of details on issues."

The Gore camp seems to be ready, also. They said Saturday: "If Bush is so eager to debate, Al Gore is ready right now…If Bush means what he says, he won't keep ducking debates until the fall."

Bush, asked whether Buchanan and Nader should be allowed to participate, said, "I haven't made up my mind on that. I do want an opportunity to debate Al Gore one on one. I think that would be really useful for the country. As to whether they ought to be in the debates or not, we'll see."

The debate commission has proposed excluding from the debates candidates who draw less than 15 percent in national polls, a standard that would currently appear to rule out either Buchanan or Nader.