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Bush: Debates not "be all, end all'

President Bush late Wednesday played down expectations for the presidential debates, saying they are not the "be all and end all" of the race and may not have decided the outcome of any contest for the White House.

He said he was "not nervous . . . not particularly excited" about the series of three debates beginning Sunday with Democrat Bill Clinton and Texas billionaire Ross Perot.

Returning to the television talk-show circuit, Bush sat down for an hourlong appearance on CNN's Larry King Live.

It was the fourth network television appearance since Sunday for Bush, who is behind in the polls and struggling to catch up with less than four weeks before election.

The King show marked the first time Bush agreed to respond to call-in questions, a step he once said was beneath the dignity of the president. Clinton and his running mate, Al Gore, appeared on the King program Monday night.

Bush, asked how much effect the debates would have, said, "some but not all." He said he did not think any debate had decided a presidential race. "We don't think it is the be all and end all. It will give me a chance to stand up there and say, "Here is what I am for.' "

Bush also denied that he had a blacklist of journalists he would not talk with, as alleged by CBS television correspondent Leslie Stahl. "I have talked to Dan Rather, don't you remember?" he said, referring to a fiery broadcast encounter in the 1988 presidential race.

"There are some programs that aren't worth going on," Bush continued. "I like going where you can get a fair shake. I think some are objective, some are pejorative."

A businessman from Tokyo complained in a telephone call that U.S. trade negotiators, after retiring from government, were becoming lobbyists for foreign companies that they had dealt with as U.S. officials.

"I'm as offended as you are by that," the president said. "On the other hand, people are free to lobby or do whatever they want."