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Ground Rules, Format, and Logistics

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Flashback to Delaware Debates 2010: Candidates for Delaware's U.S. House of Representatives seat meet in Mitchell Hall.

Flashback to Delaware Debates 2010: Candidates for Delaware's U.S. House of Representatives seat meet in Mitchell Hall.

Delaware Debates 2020 is structured to encourage substantive discussion of important issues. It is the intent of the producers to encourage discussion rather than deliver scripted answers.

Candidates and campaigns have a right to make sure the rules and format of a debate are fair and applied. The producers expect that all participants will strictly adhere to the established rules without exception. 

Please direct any questions or concerns about debate ground rules, format, logistics, or petitions for candidate inclusion to Nancy Karibjanian, Director of the Center for Political Communication.

Ground Rules

  • Surrogates will not be allowed to participate in the debate in place of a candidate.
  • No placards, posters, stickers or other such campaign materials may be displayed by the candidates during the debate. 
  • Water will be provided; therefore, no outside food or drink is permitted.
  • The candidate may not have access to any person during the debate other than the moderator, and, in the case of an emergency, a member of the production crew or staff. 
  • Candidates may not use any type of technology during the debate.
  • The debate will include questions from a primary moderator who may be joined by a journalist, and questions from an online audience.
  • The producer and moderator will determine which questions are asked, by whom, and when during the debate. 
  • Time limits on statements, answers, rebuttals, and responses will be enforced by the moderator during the debate.
    • The moderator may interrupt any candidate if the moderator believes the candidate is straying from the subject matter. 
    • The candidates may not interrupt one another. It is the moderators' responsibility and discretion—not the candidates'—to enforce this rule. 
  • No participant in the debate (neither candidates nor questioners) may be allowed to use props or visuals of any kind.
  • No participant in the debate (neither candidates nor questioners) may touch any other participants during the debate. 
  • Candidates and the moderator will remain in their designated position for the duration of the debate. 
  • Candidates may refer to limited notes.
    1. Notes should be placed in front of the speaker.
    2. Notes may be written on letter-sized sheets of paper or index cards that can fit into a letter-sized business folder or within an ordinary binder up to 2" thick that holds 8-1/2" x 11" pages. 
  • Candidates, moderators and questioners may write notes for their use throughout the program. 
  • A notepad and pen will be provided.
  • Camera shots of the candidates reacting to one another will be balanced in number and length, as determined solely by the producers. 
    • When reaction shots are on-camera, the candidate who is speaking will be included in the shot as well as the reacting candidate. 

Debate Format

  • Each debate will last about 60 minutes, from open to close, including all introductions and conclusions.
    • Each one-hour debate will be divided into substantive subject areas.
    • The number of segments, the subject areas, the length, and the order will be determined exclusively by the moderator and the producers. 
    • Candidates will be advised before the beginning of the debate of the subject areas of the segments in their debate, to avoid repetition.
  • The moderator will open Delaware Debates with a welcome and introduction, followed by an explanation of the format.
  • Each debate will begin with the first question by the moderator. There will be no candidate opening statements.
  • The moderator will address questions to all the candidates, but not all candidates will be expected to answer every question.
  • A coin toss before the debate will determine the order of responses, and the order for a two-minute closing statement.
    • When two candidates are participating, the candidate who wins the coin toss chooses whether or not to answer first. 
    • Candidates who open first ("first word"), close first. Candidates who open second, close second ("last word").
    • When there are more than two candidates, the order will be determined by drawing lots backstage before the debate program begins. A second draw will determine the order for closing statements.
  • Candidates' responses to moderator questions will be limited to about 90 seconds (or less) each. 
  • The moderator and production staff will keep candidates informed of their elapsed time and will enforce the limits. 
  • The moderator may prompt a follow-up discussion, following the candidates' initial responses.
  • The debate may include a lightning round of short questions and short answers.
    • During a lightning round, candidates' responses will be limited to 60 seconds or less.
  • Closing statements offer each candidate an opportunity to speak about themselves, rather than make charges or attacks that have not been previously raised during the debate.
    • If a candidate violates this rule and the attacked candidate has already completed his or her closing statement, the moderator may offer the attacked candidate the right to make a short rebuttal, if time permits, after the closing statement segment has been completed.


  • Each candidate, or appointed representatives of each candidate, can have supervised access to the debate site by appointment with Nancy Karibjanian (
  • To comply with social distancing regulations, each candidate may bring only one guest to the debate.
  • One parking space will be provided for each candidate. 
  • Make-up and hairstyling services will be provided.
  • Candidates will be assigned a semi-private space to prepare before the debate.
  • To comply with social distancing regulations and to allow time for the coin toss, make-up, hairstyling, and familiarization with the stage set, participating candidates will be provided with an arrival time.


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Ground Rules, Format, and Logistics
  • Department of Communication
  • Department of Political Science and International Relations