More attention than ever has been paid this election to the composition of each candidate's pre-debate negotiating team.
Democrat John Kerry has named two of the most powerful lawyers in Washington, plus the sitting governors of Michigan and Arizona to his team.
President Bush has named a former secretary of state, a lobbyist turned governor of Mississippi, and one of the party's sharpest media personalities, Mary Matalin.
Their actual job, besides posturing and sending signals, is to settle debate details, like height of podiums, formats, number of debates. With all the star power on each side, it's taking longer than expected and irritating the commission.
"If they want to get in each other's faces and do the little playground routine, OK," said one person involved in the debate preparations, "But there's an event waiting to happen."
The first debate is set for Sept. 30 at the University of Miami, with the PBS anchor Jim Lehrer as moderator; it is to focus primarily on domestic policy. One or two more presidential debates are to follow.