George W. Bush and Al Gore put the final touches on preparations for tonight's televised debate, which analysts said could be the most influential of any presidential election since 1960. A sizable audience was expected to tune in, with estimates ranging from 60 million viewers to more than 80 million. Analysts said the candidates, locked in a tight race, had crucial expectations to fulfill: Gore had to show his human side, while Bush needed to prove he can master the issues. (Story, page 1; editorial, page 11.)
Two presidential candidates from third parties objected to their exclusion from the debate and staged one of their own Sunday. The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has ruled that Ralph Nader, of the Green Party, and the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan failed to meet the criteria for participation in the Bush-Gore debate.
The Supreme Court, in the first day of its new term, let stand a $5 billion punitive-damages award against Exxon Mobil Corp. for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The appeal centered on the admitted misconduct of a court bailiff, now deceased, who escorted the jury during the 1994 trial. Exxon Mobil has appeals pending, a spokesman said.
Among other actions, the justices set aside a ruling that let students choose a class member to give a prayer or other message at public high school graduations. The court ordered a federal appeals court to restudy the case, from Florida, in light of the decision last June to bar student-led prayers at public high school football games. Such prayers violated the constitutionally required separation of church and state, the justices said. (Story, page 4.)
Israeli and Palestinian leaders, grappling with the worst violence in their region in four years, agreed to support a US-led inquiry into the outbreak, the White House announced. Security officials from the three governments will meet at an unspecified location to root out causes of the unrest and try to prevent a recurrence, a spokes-man for the US National Security Council said. Since an Israeli opposition leader made a controversial visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount last week, at least 36 people have been killed. (Story, page 1.)
As the Los Angeles transit strike entered its third week, union officials reviewed a contract proposal they said could end the walkout, but declined to give details. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials reportedly offered the union a $43 million wage-and-benefit increase over three years. Gov. Gray Davis (D) also signed a key bill over the weekend requiring that union contracts be honored for at least four years if the MTA is broken into smaller transit zones.
After four straight monthly declines, construction spending jumped by a stronger-than expected 1.4 percent in August, the Commerce Department reported. Analysts pointed to a surge in spending on government projects.
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