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Was the President wired up for TV?
It is the question gripping America - just what caused the bulge in George Bush's blazer?
Photographs of his first presidential debate with Democratic challenger John Kerry show the outline of what appears to be a small box underneath his suit.
Within hours of the pictures being released at the weekend, there was intense speculation that the president was wired with a secret radio receiver so that aides - hidden off stage - could tell him how to answer questions.
The White House has been quick to shoot down the rumour, with Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel claiming it was 'ridiculous'.
But it could explain the peculiar
performance of Mr Bush, who lost out badly in the first of three televised debates on October 1.
The president stopped speaking several times in mid-sentence, as if he was waiting for someone to tell him what to say next.
And he complained twice about being interrupted when no one had said a word.
David Lindorff, a writer with the respected Internet political site Salon, said after examining hundreds of photographs of the bulge: 'There's definitely something under there pushing up through the suit.
'Is it a receiver picking up transmissions from someone off stage feeding the president answers through a hidden earpiece?
'Does the device explain why the normally ramrod-straight president seemed hunched over during much of the debate?'
The issue has become such a topic of discussion across America that a website - www.isbushwired.com -
was set up to discuss the matter, but had so many hits it was flooded and had to close down last night.
Nicolle Devenish, the presidential communications director, said the president was not wearing a bulletproof vest, back brace, or anything else that might explain the bulge.
'It was most likely a rumpling of his suit jacket, or a wrinkle in the fabric,' she claimed. 'It is preposterous to suggest that the president was being prompted through a radio strapped to his back.'
Mr Bush was much more aggressive and spirited during the second debate on Saturday. Some polls claim Mr Kerry won, but most pundits agree it was a draw.
Overall, the polls show the race is too close to call. The latest Reuters-Zogby poll yesterday had Mr Kerry ahead by a point while an ABC News poll had Mr Bush ahead by four.
A final third debate to be restricted to domestic issues will be held on Wednesday.
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