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Primary Debates and Forums


[click images for details]

Aug. 6, 2015 - Cleveland, OH.
Sept. 16, 2015 - Simi Valley, CA.
Oct. 28, 2015 - Boulder, CO.
Nov. 10, 2015 - Milwaukee, WI.

Dec. 15, 2015 - Las Vegas, NV.
Jan. 14, 2016 - No. Charleston, SC.
Jan. 28, 2016 - Des Moines, IA. Feb. 6, 2016 - Manchester, NH.

Feb. 13, 2016 - Greenville, SC. Feb, 25, 2016 - Houston, TX. Mar. 3, 2016 - Detroit, MI.
Mar. 10, 2016 - Miami, FL.


Mar. 21, 2016 - Salt Lake City, UT.

The Republican presidential candidates engaged in a dozen RNC-sanctioned debates between Aug. 6, 2015 and Mar. 10, 2016 (+).  It appears doubtful there will be another (+).  See also: the changing line up.


Oct. 13, 2015 - Las Vegas, NV.
Nov. 14, 2015 - Des Moines, IA.
Dec. 19, 2015 - Manchester, NH.
Jan. 17, 2016 - Charleston, SC.

Feb. 4, 2016 - Durham, NH.
Feb. 11, 2016 - Milwaukee, WI.
Mar. 6, 2016 - Flint, MI.
Mar. 9, 2016 - Miami, FL

Apr. 14. 2016 - Brooklyn, NY

The Democratic presidential candidates have engaged in nine DNC-sanctioned debates between Oct. 13, 2015
and Apr. 14, 2016 (
+).  There could be a tenth debate before the California primary (+). >

                                                                                                                                                    For additions/corrections please CONTACT action08 @ gmail
revised May 18, 2016                                

Televised Debates

Aug. 6, 2015 - FOX News Channel/Facebook/Ohio Republican Party at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH.  
main: transcript: CST, WaPo, Time | video 
undercard: transcript: CST, WaPo  | video

Sept. 16, 2015 - CNN at Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA.  
transcript (2) | video 
: transcript |

Oct. 28, 2015 - CNBC at the University Of Colorado Boulder in Boulder, CO. 
: transcript (2
: transcript

Nov. 10, 2015 - Fox Business Network/The Wall Street Journal at Milwaukee Theatre in Milwaukee, WI.
main: transcript (2) | video (2) 
: transcript (2) | video

Dec. 15, 2015 - CNN/Facebook at The Venetian Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV.
transcript | video  
: transcript
video, 2 

Jan. 14, 2016 - FOX Business Network at N. Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center in N. Charleston, SC.
main: transcript: WaPo, NYT  |  video 

Jan. 28, 2016 - FOX News Channel at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, IA. 
main: transcript: WaPo, NYT  
: transcript: WaPo,

Feb. 6, 2016 - ABC News at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.
transcript: WaPo, NYT

Feb. 13, 2016 - CBS News at The Peace Center in Greenville, SC.
transcript: WaPo, NYT

Feb. 25, 2016 - CNN/Telemundo/Salem Communications at the University of Houston in Houston, TX.
transcript: WaPo, NYT

Mar. 3, 2016 - FOX News Channel at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, MI.
transcript: WaPo, NYT  |  video

Mar. 10, 2016 - CNN/Salem Radio at the University of Miami in Miami, FL.
transcript  |  video 1, 2

Mar. 21, 2016 - FOX News Channel at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, UT.canceled +

Televised Debates

Oct. 13, 2015 - CNN-Facebook at the Wynn Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV.
transcript (2)  |  video

Nov. 14, 2015 - CBS News/KCCI/The Des Moines Register at Drake University in Des Moines, IA.
transcript (2 |  video 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Dec. 19, 2015 - ABC News at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.

Jan. 17, 2016 - NBC News/YouTube/Congressional Black Caucus Institute at the Galliard Center in Charleston, SC.

Feb. 4, 2016 - MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH.

Feb. 11, 2016 - PBS News Hour-Facebook at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Milwaukee, WI.
transcript, WaPo  |  video

Mar. 6, 2016 - CNN at University of Michigan-Flinton in Flint, MI.
transcript  |  video

Mar. 9, 2016 - Univision News/Washington Post at Miami-Dade College in Miami, FL.

Apr. 14, 2016 - CNN/NY1 at Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, NY.

About Primary Debates and Forums

Over the past four cycles, the first debates have been as early as April 26 (2007) or as late as Oct. 22 (1999).  This cycle, the first Republican debate occurred on Aug. 6, 2015 in Cleveland, OH and it was actually two debates: a main or "A-team" debate in prime-time and a "B-team" or "kids table" debate for candidates not meeting the requirements for the main debate.  The first Democratic debate occurred on Oct. 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, NV. 

The RNC was determined not to allow a repeat of what occurred in 2011-12, when there were at least 20 televised forums and debates (+), during which the candidates "sliced and diced" each other.  At its Spring Meeting in May 2014, the RNC approved a rule establishing a Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates.1  Following its work, at the RNC Winter Meeting in Jan. 2015 the party announced details of nine sanctioned debates between Aug. 2015 and March 1, 2016 as well as three for which details were pending (+). 

Participation in the debates has been determined by the sponsoring news organizations, mostly using national polling numbers.  The first seven Republican debates were split affairs, consisting of an undercard debate for candidates not meeting polling criteria, and a primetime main debate.  Candidates relegated to the "kiddy table," "happy hour" or B-debates or excluded altogether were at a distinct disadvantage and complained heatedly about the use of polling numbers to determine participation.  Undercard or excluded candidates suggested, for example, that a better, fairer alternative would have been to divide the candidates into two randomly assigned groups.  For the fifth debate CNN finally did take into account the candidates' standing in Iowa and New Hampshire.  

Polling is also used to determine the placement of the candidates on the stage (+).  Donald Trump has been center stage for each of the debates except the Jan. 28 debate in Des Moines, which he skipped.  Other candidates have been variously positioned according to polling numbers.  After the first debate, Carly Fiorina was able to move up to the main stage debate, but it took some work by her supporters.  By the sixth debate, however, she was relegated to the undercard debate.  For the fourth debate, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were demoted to the undercard debate and Lindsey Graham and George Pataki bumped off the stage altogether.  Christie returned to the main stage for the fifth debate.

The third debate, organized by CNBC in Boulder, resulted in widespread grumbling among Republicans about the moderators and prompted a mini-revolt of sorts.  RNC chair Reince Priebus announced the party would  suspend work with NBC News on a February debate (+).  Many of the candidates themselves were unhappy with various aspects of the debates, and on Nov. 1 representatives of most of them met in the Washington, DC area.  Attorney Ben Ginsburg produced a draft letter to be sent to networks sponsoring debates.  The letter included ten specific demands: that the sponsors not "ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question; ask yes/no questions without time to provide a substantive answer; have a 'lightening round;' allow candidate-to-candidate questioning; allow props or pledges by the candidates; have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates; show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are); use behind shots of the candidates showing their notes; leave microphones on during breaks; allow member of the audience to wear political messages (shirts, buttons, signs, etc.) Who enforces?"  However, the Washington Post reported on Nov. 2 that Donald Trump would not sign the letter; instead he and his advisors would negotiate directly with the networks.  The fourth debate went off without major complaints and the whole episode fizzled.

The five Republican debates held in 2015 include five of the six most watched presidential primary debates in history.

Meanwhile, the RNC Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates decided to amend its handiwork; on Feb. 20 it announced an thirteenth debate for March 21 in Salt Lake City, and, if needed, a debate in April in New York City.  However, after Trump and then Kasich withdrew, the planned Salt Lake City debate was canceled.

Scenes from several of the undercard or "happy hour debates"

Meanwhile, the DNC announced (+) on May 5, 2015 that it would sanction six debates starting in Fall 2015 "when voters are truly beginning to pay attention."  Further, the DNC announced an exclusivity requirement wherein, "Any candidate or debate sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process."  The first DNC-sanctioned debate occurred on October 13 in Nevada.  The limited number and late start to the debates did not go over well with quite a few activists (+).  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) advocated for a larger number of debates as well as inter-party debates (+), and former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) pushed back forcefully (+).  Eventually a several additional debates were added to the schedule, but that did not help O'Malley as he suspended his campaign following the Iowa caucuses.  The first head to head matchup between Clinton and Sanders took place in New Hampshire on February 4, 2016.

The formats of the debates have tended to be fairly similar.  Generally candidates have one minute for responses and 30 seconds for follow ups and rebuttals.  There have been other formats.  The FOX Business News Republican debate in Milwaukee had 90-second responses and one minute for follow ups and rebuttals.  In 2008 and 2004 NPR and Iowa Public Radio organized audio only debates (+), and on July 20, 2011 six Republican candidates participated in TheTeaParty.net's Twitter Presidential Debate (+).

Individual debates rarely prove decisive, in the sense that one candidate clearly outshines the others, but a series of strong performances can boost a candidacy, while gaffes or sub-par performances can undermine a hopeful's efforts.  Gov. Rick Perry's crippling performance in the Nov. 9, 2011 debate in Michigan torpedoed his chances not only in that campaign, but very likely in his 2015 campaign as well.  Walter Shapiro, then covering his ninth presidential campaign, observed in The New Republic that "most campaign debates are like old-time Chinese food—they seem filling while the TV cameras are rolling, but two hours later most of the gotcha moments and zingers fade into irrelevance."2

In addition to debates, where candidates share the stage, there are also forums where candidates appear individually in succession.  This cycle, for example, the publishers of three early state newspapers--the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Charleston Post & Courier and th Cedar Rapids Gazette organized a Voters First Forum (+) for the Republican candidates on Aug. 3, 2015 in New Hampshire to provide voters "an opportunity to see the candidates together on a level playing field" early in the campaign.

There are numerous "cattle shows" where some or many candidates deliver a version of their stump speech to party, ideological or interest groups.  Events such as CPAC (Feb. 26-28, 2015) provide early organizing tests.  Many of these events occur in the key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina; a few stand out.  For example, the Iowa Freedom Summit, held on Jan. 24, 2015 in Ames, drew about a dozen potential candidates, and proved to be a breakout event for Gov. Scott Walker and gave a glimpse of things to come for Carly Fiorina.  In past cycles, one of the biggest event of the pre-primary period was the Republican Party of Iowa Straw Poll.  This had been scheduled for Aug. 8, 2015, but the party voted to cancel it.  

Major Events and Forums include

Jan. 24, 2015 - Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, IA.

Feb. 26-28, 2015 - CPAC at National Harbor, MD.

Mar. 7, 2015 - Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines, IA

April 10-12, 2015 - 144th NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, TN.

April 17-18, 2015 - NHGOP #FITN Republican Leadership Summit at the Nashua Crowne Plaza in Nashua, NH. >

May 9, 2015 - South Carolina Freedom Summit at the Peace Center in Greenville, SC.

May 16, 2015 - RPI Lincoln Dinner at Iowa Events Center - Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in Des Moines, IA.

May 21-23, 2015 - Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, OK.

June 6, 2015 - Joni's 1st Annual Roast and Ride in Boone, IA. >

June 18-20, 2015 - Road to Majority in Washington, DC.

June 18-20, 2015 - NE Republican Leadership Conf. in Philadelphia, PA.

July 18, 2015 - The FAMiLY Leadership Summit in Ames, IA. >

Aug. 3, 2015 - Voters First Forum at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.

Aug. 6-9, 2015 - RedState Gathering in Atlanta, GA.

Aug. 13-23, 2015 - Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA.

Sept. 18, 2015 - Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC.

Sept. 18-20, 2015 - Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference at Mackinac Island, MI.

Sept. 25-27, 2015 - Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC.

Oct. 31, 2015 - Republican Party of Iowa's Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, IA.

Nov. 13-14, 2015 - Republican Party of Florida's Sunshine Summit at in Orlando, FL.

Nov. 20, 2015 - The FAMiLY Leader Presidential Family Forum at Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in Des Moines, IA. >

Dec. 3, 2015 - Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

Dec. 3, 2015 - Brown & Black Forum in Des Moines, IA.

Dec. 5, 2015 - Rising Tide Summit, hosted by FreedomWorks and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, IA.>

Jan. 22-23, 2016 - NHGOP #FITN Presidential Town Hall at the Radisson Hotel in Nashua, NH.

Mar. 2-5, 2016 - CPAC at National Harbor, MD. >

Major Events and Forums include

July 16-19, 2015 - Netroots Nation in Phoenix, AZ.

July 17, 2015 - IDP's Annual Hall of Fame Dinner at the Cedar Rapids Convention Center in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Aug. 13-23, 2015 - Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA.

Aug. 27-29, 2015 - DNC Summer Meeting at the Hilton Minneapolis in Minneapolis, MN.

Sept. 19, 2015 -  NHDP State Convention at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH.

Oct. 24, 2015 - IDP's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Hy-Vee Hall at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, IA.

Jan. 11, 2016 - Brown & Black Forum in Des Moines, IA.

Jan. 25, 2016 - CNN Iowa Democratic Candidates Town Hall at Drake University in Des Moines, IA.

Feb. 3, 2016 - CNN/NHDP Democratic Town Hall at the Derry Opera House in Derry, NH.

Feb. 5, 2016 - NHDP 2016 McIntyre Shaheen 100 Club Celebration at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH.

Feb. 18, 2016 - MSNBC and Telemundo Democratic Town Hall in Las Vegas, NV. >

Feb. 3, 2016 - NH1's “The 2016 Live Free or Die Democratic Presidential Forum” at the NH1 Media Center in Concord, NH.

Nov. 7, 2015 - Candidate forum at Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Orlando, FL.

1. The RNC also set up a committee the last cycle, in March 2011 to make recommendations on primary debates (+); on April 1, 2011 it proposed a series of six sanctioned debates to be held from August through February; those events were to be held in conjunction with fundraisers to help the party retire its debt.  Nothing came of this).  

2. Walter Shapiro.  "Rick Perry's Ponzi Scheme Debate." The New Republic, Sept. 8, 2011. +

3. See also: Mark McKinnon.  "Gone Rogue: Time to Reform the Presidential Primary Debates." Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy Discussion Paper Series #D-67, Jan. 2012. [PDF]

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