The details of the debates were hammered out in negotiations led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, acting for President Bush, and attorney Vernon Jordan, acting for Sen. Kerry.
Although the debates will be nationally broadcast, the candidates appear to hope to get some regional mileage out of the various locations, many of which are in states whose voters have been heavily courted by both campaigns.
The first presidential debate will be on Thursday, Sept. 30, at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., focusing on foreign policy and homeland security.
Next up is the vice presidential debate, with Sen. John Edwards and Vice President Dick Cheney taking on "all topics." It will be on Tuesday, Oct. 5, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
The presidential candidates "all subjects" debate will be Friday, Oct. 8, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Domestic and economic policy will be the focus of the final debate between Sen. Kerry and President Bush, on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.
With a guaranteed television audience of tens of millions of people, the debates could have a major impact because of the closeness of the race and the voters who still count themselves as undecided.
In a poll by the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of those surveyed said the debates would matter in deciding how they would vote. Some 68 percent said their minds were already made up.
Those undecided voters could make a huge difference. According to a Nielsen survey, 46.6 million people watched the first debate between Bush and Al Gore in 2000. The second and third debates drew audiences of 37.6 million, and 37.7 million, respectively.
In 2000, Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore debated three times in 90-minute sessions in October. Their running mates debated once that month.