Williams will likely moderate

MSNBC will carry the first televised presidential debate of the 2008 race when Democratic hopefuls square off in South Carolina on April 26.

Debate, scheduled nearly six months earlier than the first debate of the 2004 presidential race, stretches the campaign 18 months before Election Day in 2008.

An NBC News personality, likely Brian Williams, will both moderate and anchor the debate, which will air in primetime and be streamed on MSNBC.com. Network will announce the moderator and other details later.

Republicans aren’t waiting much longer to get their first debate under their belts. Fox News Channel will air the GOP’s first televised debate, also in South Carolina, on May 15 at the Kroger Center in the state capital of Columbia.

With its diverse electorate and early primary, South Carolina is emerging as a key battleground state for both parties. South Carolina holds the third presidential primary on the schedule, after Iowa and New Hampshire.

As it stands, there are only three declared candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

The heavy-hitters, Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), have not yet declared their intentions.

The Democratic debate will be held on the campus of South Carolina State U., a historically black college with a significant past in the civil rights movement.

Three were killed and 27 injured in 1968 when the South Carolina Highway Patrol fired on demonstrators against segregation, an event known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

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