Primary Debates and Forums
Aug. 6, 2015 - FOX
News Channel/Facebook/Ohio Republican Party at Quicken Loans
Arena in Cleveland,
main: transcript: CST, WaPo, Time | video
undercard: transcript: CST, WaPo | video
Sept. 16, 2015 - CNN at Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA.
main: transcript (2) | video
undercard: transcript | video
Mar. 21, 2016 - FOX
News Channel at the Salt Palace Convention
Center in Salt Lake City, UT.canceled +
Dec. 19, 2015 - ABC News
at St. Anselm College in Manchester,
17, 2016 - NBC
News/YouTube/Congressional Black Caucus
Institute at the Galliard Center in Charleston, SC.
4, 2016 - MSNBC
at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH.
Mar. 9, 2016 - Univision News/Washington Post at Miami-Dade College in Miami, FL.
14, 2016 - CNN/NY1 at Brooklyn Navy
Yard in Brooklyn, NY.
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
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
grumbling among Republicans about the moderators and prompted a
of sorts. RNC chair
Reince Priebus announced the party would suspend work with NBC
News on a February debate
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
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.
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.
MORE ON DEBATES
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,
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
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
Mar. 7, 2015 - Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines, IA.
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 21-23, 2015
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.
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
Aug. 13-23, 2015 - Iowa State
Des Moines, IA.
2015 - Mackinac
25-27, 2015 - Values Voter
Summit in Washington, DC.
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 - 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 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. >
PROPOSED EVENTS THAT DIDN'T
Feb. 3, 2016 - NH1's “The 2016 Live Free or Die Democratic Presidential Forum” at the NH1 Media Center in Concord, NH.
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,
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]