New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and ABC News have invited Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain to participate in a 90-minute, primetime town hall meeting to be broadcast live from Federal Hall in New York City, but the two campaigns said today they do not want the event to be broadcast by only one network.
Obama, D-Ill., and McCain, R-Ariz., have indicated a willingness to participate in such a forum -- unprecedented in the history of modern presidential campaigns -- though both camps said today they want the event to be available for broad distribution.
"Both the McCain and Obama campaigns agree the town halls will be open to press, but not sponsored or monitored by the press," Brooke Buchanan, the McCain campaign's traveling press secretary, said.
Jeffrey Schneider, a spokesman for ABC News, said the network is ready to discuss the idea of wider distribution of the event.
"We think the important thing is bringing the candidates together," he said.
The idea for such town hall appearances -- instead of or in addition to the traditional structured presidential debates -- was first floated by McCain's camp, and was accepted by Obama.
"We are thrilled to see you both embrace the idea of joint town hall meetings where voters can an have unfiltered opportunity to hear how each candidate would address the great issues facing our country," read a letter sent to both campaigns today from Bloomberg, I-New York City, and ABC News president David Westin extending the invitation to the two campaigns.
"On behalf of the City of New York and ABC News we respectfully offer to host and broadcast the first of these town halls on a date that can be agreed upon by all parties."
Under the plan proposed by ABC News, "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer would moderate the event.
"I don't think we need any big media-run productions, no processed questions from reporters, no spin rooms, just two Americans running for the highest office in the greatest nation on earth responding to the concerns of the people whose trust that we must earn," McCain told an audience in Baton Rouge, La., on Wednesday.
The concept was modeled, McCain said, after a series of debates that would have been scheduled between President John F. Kennedy, and Sen. Barry Goldwater for the 1964 presidential campaign.
Sen. Obama, on the same day McCain made his offer, said he would be open to such a format.
"Oh, we're definitely going to be doing some town hall debates," Obama told ABC News' Charlie Gibson in an interview the day after clinching the Democratic nomination.
"I look forward, you know, having more than just the three traditional debates that we've seen in recent presidential contests."
The McCain campaign released a letter they sent to Obama asking for 10 debates -- one a week starting on June 12 -- that will lead up to the Democratic National Convention at the end of August.
Obama said beginning such events the week after he wrapped up the nomination against former rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would be a "little premature."