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Let's play fair in GOP primary debates
Posted By Ellen Ratner On 06/06/2011 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
The CNN Republican primary debate in New Hampshire is about to take place on June 13. The press who have been through the ritual know it well: A few get to be in the room, and a few get to watch it on screens in a press room. After, there is a spin room, where sometimes the candidates, and often just their surrogates, speak the message they meant to convey during the debate that took place minutes ago. Debates don’t change, but the actors do. It is a huge promotion for whichever network hosts the debate. It makes careers for the anchors.
Any early debate is important to the overall financial increase in the “primary” economy of the first in the nation states. No amount of trying to change the primary process has worked. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina’s citizens have a huge influence in selecting the next president of the United States. It doesn’t matter that the West has no influence over who gets nominated.
That the selection process skews to just three states makes no sense. However, death, taxes and the early primary states will never change.
The problem with this is if you are an unknown in that early primary state, such as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is in New Hampshire, you have no chance. The only way in is if you can come to the table with money to purchase ads to get any kind of name recognition.
Johnson’s problem: Now that CNN won’t let him into the debate without a certain poll number, how can he get money to get his message across unless he is allowed to debate? Fred Karger was excluded from the debate in South Carolina. He is more of a fringe candidate than Gov. Gary Johnson. There has been some concern that Karger did not meet the 1 percent threshold of being in that first debate because he was not listed as a candidate in the polling I questions in the first place.
The Gary Johnson situation is different. He was a two-time sitting governor of a state that is west of the Mississippi. Unlike Gov. Romney, who is from the bordering state of Massachusetts where radio and television markets converge with New Hampshire’s, Gary Johnson’s small state has no influence in any of the early primary states.
What may be more sinister in excluding Gov. Johnson, however, is detailed on his own website. In his statement about it, Gov. Johnson says that they are welcome to invite whomever they want to the debate. But he added:
It is, however, unfortunate that a significant segment of the Republican Party, and more importantly, millions of independent voters who might be Republican voters, will not have a voice on the stage in Manchester.
What will be missing is the voice of those who hold an undiluted view of individual liberty – those who believe that individual rights extend to women who face choices about abortion, Americans who happen to be gay, and those who don’t place other asterisks on freedom.
Johnson’s website continues: “Likewise, there will be no voice for the growing number of Americans who see the hypocrisy and failure of drug laws that condone alcohol at White House dinners while incarcerating millions of Americans, including our kids, who choose to smoke pot.”
Currently, the debate invitees are: Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. With the exception of Ron Paul, there is no one that has a real alternative view in terms of how they plan to actually govern once they are in the White House. Paul, had spent years developing a constituency of his own, but Gary Johnson is new to the game. Rick Santorum is currently polling at 2 percent, which is enough to get him on the CNN debate. However, Santorum is from an Eastern state, which could have provided that ever-so-slight lead in name recognition. In some New Hampshire polls he does not even show up as a candidate.
All of these decisions about who is in and out of the debates lead to showmanship and decision-making by the media about who gets to be part of our democratic process. It is not fair to the candidates and even less fair to the American people who deserve a fair and honest discussion of the issues before we decide who gets to occupy the White House and a spot in our living rooms for the next four years.
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