Pa. debate has ABC in middle


ABC's Charles Gibson acknowledges that the heavy load of presidential debates has taken its toll, but he said Wednesday's faceoff between the Democratic candidates is coming at an opportune time.

"I'm sort of debated out, and I think they are as well," Gibson told The Reporter on Friday. "But the timing is fortunate in this. I was anxious to do this one because we haven't heard from them (in a debate) in six weeks."

ABC scored a primetime debate between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama less than a week before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Gibson and chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos will moderate.

"The stakes, at least for Sen. Clinton, couldn't be higher," Stephanopoulos said. "Pennsylvania has become a must-win."

How it will all play out, neither Gibson or Stephanopoulos can say. The structure of this debate will be different than more recent ones. Gibson said that there will be guidelines, though not limits, with a 90-second response from a candidate and then a 60-second reply from the other.

Like the Jan. 5 back-to-back debates that Gibson did on his own, there will be a clock tracking the candidates' time.

"I'll have the cumulative clock and try to keep the two of them equal," Gibson said.

Since it's been six weeks since the last debate, Stephanopoulos said he isn't sure what to expect Wednesday.

"I can imagine a debate where they really go at it, and I can imagine a debate where they've decided they want to train their fire on the Republicans," he said. "What we're going to do is make sure that we have put all the big issues on the table and in the most challenging way that we can."

Gibson drew rave reviews for the Jan. 5 debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, as well as a 2004 presidential debate. He's been cramming for the past several days on the usual debate topics and also a few esoteric ones, like carbon sequestration -- storing carbon and coal plants underground to reduce greenhouse gases.

"It's a subject I don't know a whole lot about, and it probably won't come up," Gibson said. "But I don't know beans about carbon sequestration, so I read up on it."