Challenge flags? A chess clock? Group looks to improve debates

Washington CNN —  

What if the Republican and Democratic nominees for President finished their answers in next year’s presidential debates by pounding a chess clock?

Or if each candidate had two “challenge flags” they could throw in order to change the rules midway through the debate?

Those are some of the ideas floated in a new report authored by a coterie of heavyweight presidential campaign advisers meant to improve the three presidential debates. The report, “Democratizing the Debates,” released Wednesday by the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential Campaign Debate Reform, is a broad blueprint meant to revamp the back-and-forth rhetorical battles that frame the choice on Election Day.

The group recommends that only the town hall-style presidential debate features a live audience on site; that the debates happen earlier in the fall in order to give those choosing to vote before Election Day a chance to see the candidates engage; and to reduce the “spectacle” of the events by dispensing with the post-event “spin rooms” where senior aides try their best to recast what happened on stage in the most favorable light.

The working group, which included Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist, Joel Benenson, and Stuart Stevens, who was Mitt Romney’s top strategist in his 2012 bid, also recommended the “chess clock” model in which candidates can give briefer answers to some questions in order to conserve time for later ones. And it would be the candidates – not the moderators – who ask follow-up questions of their opponents.

“Under this model, candidates can choose to go into greater detail on matters of greater importance to them; they are not compelled to pad time on others,” the authors wrote.

Not answered by the top Republican and Democratic hands is whether third-party candidates, frequently griping on the sidelines of the nationally televised events, should earn a spot on the stage.