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Let there be no lights, says Kerry camp

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Senator John F. Kerry to debate organizers: Let's go light on the lights.

Advisers for the Democratic presidential candidate demanded yesterday that the lights signaling when a speaker's time has expired during debates with President Bush be removed from the lecterns because they are distracting. The commission hosting the debates refused.

Bush's campaign accused Kerry, known for favoring long sentences and statements, of trying to violate debate rules against windy answers.

An angry exchange between representatives of the Kerry campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates took place just hours before the candidates were to meet at the University of Miami for the first of three debates, according to several officials familiar with the meeting.

Kerry's team had threatened to remove the lights when visiting the debate site with the candidate later in the day. ''We'll do what we have to," Kerry strategist Tad Devine said after his meeting with the commission. Later, after Kerry had toured the debate stage and departed the building, the lights were still in place.

The commission's executive director, Janet Brown, did not return a call seeking comment.

It is not unusual for the campaigns to haggle over the smallest debate details, but not so close to the event. The commission placed the lights on the lecterns in clear view of the television audience and those in the auditorium.

An agreement between the Kerry and Bush campaigns required camera-mounted timing lights for each candidate ''positioned in his line of sight." It also specified that timing lights ''shall be placed such that they are visible to the debate audiences and television viewers."

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