Talk instead of debate?

The independent panel trying to organize debates between John McCain and Barack Obama is calling for a new, conversational format designed to get the candidates to interact with each other instead of a moderator.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has designed a 90-minute forum broken into 10-minute segments, each devoted to a particular subject. The candidates would be encouraged to spend each segment talking to each other about the issue at hand.

“The idea is to make it more of a debate,” said Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., co-chairman of the commission, which has sponsored presidential candidate debates since 1988.

The approach is a departure from the format most often used, in which the moderator asks questions and engages in a give-and- take with the candidates.

The commission has briefed the candidates on the idea. Neither campaign has given a formal response, Fahrenkopf said. The commission is scheduled to release details of the plan today.

Arizona Sen. McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, has a competing idea. He's challenging Obama, an Illinois senator, to a series of 10 town hall-style meetings in which voters would ask the questions without a moderator. The less-structured format is McCain's preferred style. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has said he would consider the idea.

The commission is proposing three presidential debates: Sept. 26 in Oxford, Miss., Oct. 7 in Nashville and Oct. 15 in Hempstead, N.Y.

They also are planning one debate for the vice presidential candidates.

Neither candidate has agreed to the schedule.