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Electorate can show true colors in YouTube debate

  • Story Highlights
  • Videos "a window into people's live," says CNN's Anderson Cooper
  • Format puts Democratic candidates "out of their comfort zone," CNN exec says
  • Costumes, props show up in YouTube users' questions
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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidates will face a new kind of questioning Monday night when queries for their debate come straight from America's living rooms via YouTube.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, who will moderate the debate from Charleston, South Carolina, says the video questions submitted to the YouTube Web site will showcase the electorate as much as the eight Democrats vying for the 2008 nomination.

"You're actually kind of getting a window into people's lives," Cooper said.

"These are people who are living the topics, who are not just asking a theoretical question," he said. "There is an intimacy that you don't normally get. And I think it adds really another dimension to the debate."

Besides the job of helping whittle down the 2,000 YouTube user submissions, Cooper said his responsibilities as moderator change with the video format.

"I think my primary role is to make sure that the candidates actually answer the questions," Cooper said. "As we all know, politicians are very good at giving a response, but a response is not necessarily an answer."

Analysts say the format could force candidates to produce more straightforward answers and less spin than they sometimes get away with in more traditional debates, because politicians are not as trained to deflect questions in this kind of setup.

"They're a little bit out of their comfort zone," said CNN Senior Vice President David Bohrman, who has helped screen the video submissions. "It's going to be very different than how [candidates] react to panelists and journalists at a traditional debate."

But some suggest the debate isn't as different as it should be.

For starters, CNN journalists are screening the questions, rather than letting Internet users select them with their votes. Plus, candidates frequently handle questions from their constituents and from individuals in town hall formats. Video Watch which questions might make the cut »

But that's where the intimacy comes in, Cooper said, arguing the video format allows people to show a side of themselves that may be masked by the nervousness or rehearsed nature of town hall formats.

"What makes them so interesting is clearly they're very personal," Cooper said.

YouTube users don't seem to be holding anything back with their submissions.

Costumes and props show up along with some pointed questions on everything from the environment to energy to ending the war in Iraq.

Bohrman said Iraq didn't dominate the 2,000 submissions, and that will be reflected in the questions chosen by CNN screeners.

"There are a lot of questions on Darfur. There are a lot of questions on health care and the economy, pocketbook issues," Bohrman said.

"I think we will try to represent that sort of sense or mood of the submissions in the questions that we pick."

Cooper said CNN screened the questions to make sure the mood of the electorate was preserved and no campaign could manipulate the process.

"You would see campaigns going out there and having all their people click on the questions that they wanted to be asked," Cooper said when questioned about why a popular vote wasn't used to select questions.

"The best stuff separates itself from the rest," he said of CNN's screening process. "It really is not a top-down process. It really is a bottom-up process."

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The debate begins at 7 p.m. ET Monday at The Citadel military college in Charleston.

Contenders for the Republican nomination face a similar debate on September 17. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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