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Frustration over the plans for Republican presidential primary debates is boiling over, causing some candidates to publicly complain about the process and resulting in two additional forums now scheduled for August.
The tension comes from competing interests: a swollen field of candidates who all want face time with voters versus television producers who want the events to be watchable and actually instigate debate.
Fifteen or 20 candidates on a crowded stage probably isn’t the answer. But there’s widespread disagreement about what the right answer is.
Back in May, Fox News announced a plan for an August 6 debate that would only include the 10 candidates that were at the top of the heap, as determined by an average of national polls.
The rest of the field, outside the top 10, would receive air time on other Fox programs that day, but would not be invited to the debate, the channel said.
At the same time, CNN, the owner of this web site, announced a different plan for the second primary season debate, scheduled for September 16. The CNN debate will have two tiers: a top tier for the 8 to 10 candidates faring best in the polls, and a bottom tier for candidates who aren’t polling as well, but still have at least 1% support.
Fox’s proposed criteria created the most consternation, partly because it is hosting the first debate, partly because it is a favorite of conservatives, and partly because its rules are more restrictive than CNN’s.
Some Republican Party leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire have said they feel the use of national polls stomps on their roles as the first in the nation caucus and primary states, respectively.
Along those same lines, commentators have predicted that candidates will spend the next two months jockeying for national poll position, perhaps playing to television and digital audiences at the expense of voters in early voting states.
And yet – what are the channels supposed to do? Allow every person who files to run for president come up on stage?
Concerns have deepened in recent days. Members of the New Hampshire Republican Party wrote to Fox News and the Republican National Committee on Wednesday to issue formal objections to the plan.
“Denying candidates an opportunity to showcase their talents and experience in the first televised debate would artificially distort the political process, stifle democracy and competition, and induce voters to consider only those candidates pre-selected by virtue of their name ID rather than their potential as candidates,” the letter said in part.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things: his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother are former Presidents.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has created a political committee that will help him travel and raise money while he considers a 2016 bid. Additionally, billionaire businessman David Koch said in a private gathering in Manhattan this month that he wants Walker to be the next president, but he doesn't plan to back anyone in the primaries.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is establishing a committee to formally explore a White House bid. "If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction," he said in a news release provided to CNN on Monday, May 18.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has said the United States needs a "political revolution" of working-class Americans looking to take back control of the government from billionaires. He first announced the run in an email to supporters early on the morning of Thursday, April 30.
On March 2, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson announced the launch of an exploratory committee. The move will allow him to raise money that could eventually be transferred to an official presidential campaign and indicates he is on track with stated plans to formally announce a bid in May.
Hillary Clinton launched her presidential bid Sunday, April 12, through a video message on social media. She continues to be considered the overwhelming front-runner among possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates.
Sen. Marco Rubio announced his bid for the 2016 presidency on Monday, April 13, a day after Hillary Clinton, with a rally in Florida. He's a Republican rising star from Florida who swept into office in 2010 on the back of tea party fervor. But his support of comprehensive immigration reform, which passed the Senate but has stalled in the House, has led some in his party to sour on his prospects.
Lincoln Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat former governor and senator of Rhode Island, said he's running for president on Thursday, April 16, as a Democrat, but his spokeswoman said the campaign is still in the presidential exploratory committee stages.
Vice President Joe Biden has twice before made unsuccessful bids for the Oval Office -- in 1988 and 2008. A former senator known for his foreign policy and national security expertise, Biden made the rounds on the morning shows recently and said he thinks he'd "make a good President."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has started a series of town halls in New Hampshire to test the presidential waters, becoming more comfortable talking about national issues and staking out positions on hot topic debates.
Sen. Rand Paul officially announced his presidential bid on Tuesday, April 7, at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. The tea party favorite probably will have to address previous controversies that include comments on civil rights, a plagiarism allegation and his assertion that the top NSA official lied to Congress about surveillance.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential bid on Monday, March 23, in a speech at Liberty University. The first-term Republican and tea party darling is considered a gifted orator and smart politician. He is best known in the Senate for his marathon filibuster over defunding Obamacare.
Democrat Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, released a "buzzy" political video in November 2013 in tandem with visits to New Hampshire. He also headlined a Democratic Party event in South Carolina, which holds the first Southern primary.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a social conservative, gave Mitt Romney his toughest challenge in the nomination fight last time out and has made trips recently to early voting states, including Iowa and South Carolina.
Political observers expect New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to yield to Hillary Clinton's run in 2016, fearing there wouldn't be room in the race for two Democrats from the Empire State.
The letter was followed by an announcement by the Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper, that it’s going to hold a forum for candidates the same day as the Fox debate. It would presumably give candidates outside the top 10 a chance to gain media attention; it will be televised by C-SPAN.
“What Fox is attempting to do, and is actually bragging about doing, is a real threat to the first-in-the-nation primary,” Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid said in a statement.
By the end of the day Wednesday, Fox had announced its own forum for the day of the debate.
“The candidates, who do not qualify for the prime-time GOP primary debate, will be among those invited to participate in the 90-minute forum, which is part of the additional planned candidate coverage previously announced by the network,” Fox said in a press release.
The forum will take place at 1 p.m. on August 6.
Candidates must have 1% support in “an average of the five most recent national polls,” as recognized by Fox, in order to participate.
A whole lot could change between now and August. Forums may or may not comply with the party’s rules, which seek to penalize candidates who participate in non-sanctioned debates.
And candidates may continue to speak out against the top ten threshold for the main, prime time Fox event.
Rick Santorum, a candidate and former contributor to Fox, has been quoted saying: “If you’re a United States senator, if you’re a governor, if you’re a woman who ran a Fortune 500 company, and you’re running a legitimate campaign for president, then you should have a right to be on stage with everybody else.”