Thursday, September 25, 2008



OXFORD — Both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are expected to be in the University of Mississippi's Gertrude Ford Center for sound checks Friday afternoon, despite McCain raising doubt Wednesday over whether the first presidential debate would proceed as planned.

Ole Miss and the Commission on Presidential Debates both said they plan to hold the debate at 8 p.m. Friday, as scheduled.

"The commission has been working with these schools for a year and a half," said Commission spokesman Peter Eyre. "We are ready to go on with the debate on Friday."

Obama, the Democratic nominee, has said he plans to be in Mississippi for the debate.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who negotiated the terms of the debate formats on McCain's behalf, told CNN on Wednesday that McCain would propose the debate take the place of the vice presidential debate, currently scheduled for next Thursday in St. Louis, if a financial bailout deal is not arranged by Friday.

The VP debate would then be rescheduled to take place in Oxford.

Mississippi Republican Party chairman Brad White said McCain has staffers in Oxford working on rallies that are scheduled before and after Friday's debate. Workers at the GOP state headquarters also are on their way to Oxford, White said.

"Nothing has been communicated to me that would lead me to believe we need to put a stop to, or slow down, the plans for a debate," White said late Wednesday. "As of right now, no one has said a word to me that would (make me think) this isn't going to happen."

McCain's campaign is continuing to advance scheduled activities here on Friday for McCain's wife, Cindy. She has two planned events, one at an Ole Miss sorority house and one with local Republican women at the Oxford University Club.

Gov. Haley Barbour and Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat are scheduled to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. today at the Ford Center entrance on University Avenue.

While the campus was rocked Wednesday with news of a possibly postponed debate, crews continued to work to prepare the Ford Center for the estimated 3,000 media members expected.

"The final details are unfolding," said university spokeswoman Gloria Kellum. "The majority of this is accommodating the media and meeting their needs for debate coverage."

A large tent was erected on University Avenue for the Secret Service to check credentials.

In front of the Ford Center, media satellite trucks continued to pour in and jockey for parking places.

Cobra security guards continued monitoring security perimeter checkpoints on Old Taylor Road, University Drive and other points of entry to the campus.

At the Triplett Alumni Center, the process of media credentialing continued, despite a period of head-scratching and hurried cell phone calls made by newspeople watching the debate postponement drama unfold on cable TV.

At sundown, forklifts still were unloading truckloads of everything from media center commissary food and drink to folding chairs and furniture.

Debate commission technical personnel - under the direction of CPD producer Martin Slutsky - continued their work tweaking minor details inside the Ford Center.

Kellum said the finishing touches in the Ford Center, such as lighting and installing camera equipment, have been put into place.

Crews also are finishing last- minute details for several events scheduled on campus over the next two days, including a debate overview by NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw tonight, and a Rock the Debate festival in the Grove on Friday.

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