ABC: Two sides to debates

Dems, GOP back-to-back on Jan. 5

It'll be a debate doubleheader for ABC News in January.

The network will televise back-to-back debates in primetime on Jan. 5 — 90 minutes each for the Democratic and Republican hopefuls — ahead of the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8. "World News" anchor Charles Gibson will moderate both debates, which will run from 7-11 p.m. EST.

The debates are being sponsored by ABC News, local ABC affiliate WMUR-TV and, for the first time, Facebook. The Web site will participate by way of debate groups that will discuss issues before, during and after the event.

It's possibly the first time that presidential debates will be held consecutively in the same venue, in this case St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

"It's going to be a high-profile event at that sweet spot in time between Iowa and New Hampshire," ABC News political director David Chalian said. "The whole country at that moment will be tuned into the saturation coverage of the campaign."

The Iowa Caucus, the 2008 election cycle's first voting opportunity, is Jan. 3. Each of the candidates will be campaigning in New Hampshire that weekend, hoping to either consolidate gains they made in Iowa or keep their campaigns alive. But since it will be the first time there will be actual vote counts before a debate, it's likely that some candidates who didn't do well in Iowa won't meet the criteria to participate.

"We're going to set what we think is a fair criteria in that point of the election cycle," Chalian said. All of the candidates have been invited, but it won't be clear until closer to the debate who will be attending.

It's not even clear yet which debate will go on first, Republican or Democratic. Chalian said a coin toss will decide that.

Each party's candidates also will have separate green rooms and assembly areas so there won't be any built-in chances for face-to-face meetings.

"They may pass in the hallway," Chalian said. "There is the potential for them to see each other."