Primary Debates and Forums
text revised slightly on August 18, 2013
The Republican presidential candidates engaged in 20
(calendar). In addition
to these debates, there were many issue forums and
"cattle shows" where some or many candidates spoke to party,
ideological or interest groups (+).
Sept. 7, 2011 - Reagan
Presidential Foundation/Politico/NBC News Debate in Simi
Valley, CA. transcript
Nov. 9, 2011 - CNBC/Michigan
Party "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate"
in Rochester, MI. transcript | video
Nov. 12, 2011 - CBS News/National
Debate on National Security and Foreign Policy in Spartanburg,
Nov. 22, 2011 - CNN/Heritage Foundation/AEI Debate on National Security and Foreign Policy in Washington, DC. transcript | video (b)
Jan. 7, 2012 - ABC News, Yahoo! News, WMUR-TV Republican Presidential Debate in Manchester, NH.
Jan. 8, 2012 - NBC News, Facebook and
the New Hampshire Union Leader Debate in Concord, NH.
transcript | video
Jan. 23, 2012 - NBC News,
National Journal, St. Petersburg Times, Florida Council of 100 debate
in Tampa, FL.
Feb. 10-12, 2011 - CPAC
in Washington, DC.
March 7, 2011 - Iowa Faith
Freedom Coalition forum in Waukee, IA.
March 26, 2011 - Conservative Principles Conference in Des Moines, IA.
April 29, 2011 - Americans
Prosperity Foundation's Presidential Summit in Manchester, NH.
June 3-4, 2011 - Faith
Briefing in Washington,
June 15-18, 2011 Republican
Leadership Conference and Reagan Centennial Celebration in New
Aug. 13, 2011 - Iowa Straw
Poll in Ames, IA.
Sept. 5, 2011 - The Palmetto Freedom Forum in Columbia, SC.
Sept. 22-24, 2011 - Presidency
Poll in Orlando, FL.
Sept. 23, 2011 - CPAC FL in Orlando, FL.
Sept. 23-25, 2011 - Mackinac
Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, MI.
Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2011 - Freedom Jamboree & Tea Party National Straw Poll Convention in Kansas City, KS.cancelled July 13
Oct. 7-9, 2011 - Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC.
Oct. 18-21, 2011 - Western
Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, NV.
Oct. 27, 2011 - College
Board/News Corp. "The Future of American Education: A Presidential
Primary Forum" in New York, NY.
Nov. 1, 2011 - National Association of Manufacturers forum on job creation and competitiveness in Pella, IA.
Nov. 3-5, 2011 - Americans
Summit in Washington, DC.
Nov. 19, 2011 - FAMiLY LEADER Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines, IA.
Dec. 3, 2011 - FOX News’ Mike Huckabee Republican Presidential Forum in New York, NY.
Dec. 7, 2011 - Republican
Dec. 14, 2011 - Premiere of "The Gift of Life," a Citizens United Production,in Des Moines, IA.
Jan. 14, 2012 - "Huckabee Forum: South Carolina Undecided" in Charleston, SC.
Jan. 17, 2012 - South
Carolina Business and Industry Political Education
Committee/South Carolina Chamber of Commerce 2012 Republican
Presidential Primary Candidate Forum in Columbia, SC.
Jan. 18, 2012 - Personhood USA
Presidential Prolife Forum in Greenville, SC.
Jan. 25, 2012 - United States
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Univision "Meet the Candidates" forum
in Miami, FL.
Feb. 9-11, 2012 - CPAC in Washington, DC. >
March 3, 2012 - "Huckabee Special: Forum 3 - Jobs" in Wilmington, OH.
Primary Debates and Forums
Over the past three cycles, the first debates have been as early as
April 26 (2007) or as late as Oct. 22 (1999). This cycle, the
first debate was originally scheduled for May 2, 2011 at the Reagan
Library, but sponsors
moved it to September due to the lack of declared candidates. The
South Carolina Republican Party held a debate on May 5, 2011 in
Greenville, but only five candidates participated; the June 13, 2011
debate in New Hampshire carried much more weight. About twenty
debates have been announced, which is more than most candidates are
willing to participate in. (The RNC set up a committee
in March 2011 to make recommendations on primary debates; on April 1,
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
Not all of the proposed debates actually
there have been
who are excluded. The sponsoring networks use various
combinations of poll results to determine who will appear on
stage. There is a bit of Catch 22 going on since some candidates
are not included in polls (1, 2, 3).
appear on stage. At the other end of the spectrum a frontrunning
candidate can to a limited extent determine which debates he or she
will participate in (+).
Being included on the stage does not guarantee a candidate equal footing. Looking at the statistics there appears to be a bias toward giving the frontrunners more questions and more time.2 CNN's Sam Feist notes that the network's moderators try to give the same number of questions to each of the candidates, but the time issue is more difficult in that the frontrunners are naturally a focus of the other candidates.
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 is scant
room for direct exchanges between the candidates, although the approach
of the moderator can make a difference. A study by Eric
Ostermeier at Smart Politics found that FOX moderators spoke for 65
percent more time than those at CNN (the FOX ratio of candidate time to
moderator time was 2.76 minutes to 1 compared to 5.12 minutes to 1 for
CNN).3 Each of the debates thus
far this cycle has had a large studio audience.4
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. In particular,
former Speaker Newt Gingrich5 has
benefited from these events while Gov.
Rick Perry had a crippling performance in the Nov. 9, 2011 debate in
Michigan. Walter Shapiro,
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."6
In addition to debates, where candidates share the stage, there are
also forums where candidates individually address a particular
issue. For example on Oct. 27, 2011 the College Board and News
Corp. held an education forum and on Nov. 1, 2011 the National
Association of Manufacturers held a forum on job creation and
More broadly there are "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. 10-12,
provide early organizing tests >. The biggest
event of the pre-primary period was likely the Republican Party of
Iowa Straw Poll in Ames on Aug. 13, 2011. (2007,
1. Cancelled debates included:
- ATR/Daily Caller/Citizen Outreach Foundation Debate in Las Vegas, NV, scheduled for July 10, 2011, postponed June 23.
- (NBC-Universal) Telemundo Debate
proposed for early
Dec. 2011 in Las Vegas, NV did not occur.
- Univision debate planned for Jan. 29, 2012 fell apart after
the candidates announced in early Oct. 2011 that they would boycott the
event due to what Republicans saw as unethical practices by the network
in covering Sen. Marco Rubio.
- Des Moines Register Debate in Johnston, IA, orig. scheduled for Jan. 12, 2012, rescheduled to Dec. 19, 2011, and canceled Nov. 16.
- Newsmax ION Television
2012 Presidential Debate, to be moderated by Donald Trump,
scheduled for Dec. 27, 2011 in Des Moines, IA. Trump withdrew on
Dec. 13, 2011.
Republican Party Debate scheduled for March 1, 2012 in Atlanta, GA;
canceled Feb. 16, 2012 after Romney and Paul declined to participate.
- Eve of Super Tuesday
- Reagan Presidential
in Simi Valley, CA. This debate was never
finalized. When the Reagan Presidential Foundation made its
August 2011, it stated that it wanted to hold the first debate and last
debate, pre-Super Tuesday. Soon afterwards it became clear
would not be a part of Super Tuesday.
- Oregon Republican Party-hosted debate scheduled for March 19, 2012 in Portland, OR; canceled March 15, 2012 "because commitments were not received by all the candidates."
-In March theTexas Republican
Party proposed a nationally
televised debate for May 2012. Gingrich, Paul and Santorum
committed to participate; Romney did not. The nomination was
effectively decided in April rendering the proposal moot.
Also note that dates of some debates changed
from what was initially announced, particularly following Florida's
move of its primary (announced Sept. 30) to Jan. 31 and
the subsequent shuffling of the primary calendar.
2. On his blog "Dawn
Weak" Wes Hemings of Austin, TX, provides a
useful analysis of candidate speaking time and other statistics
starting with the Politico debate. An analysis
by Matthew Humer, a student at the UNH Whittemore School of Business
and Economics, of the June 13 New Hampshire debate showed that Romney
received the most face time on camera, 12.90 minutes, followed by
Pawlenty (11.22), Gingrich (10.03), Bachmann (9.22), Santorum (9.03),
Paul (8.53) and Cain with the least time, 8.45 minutes. Humer's
coding scheme "counted screen time when less that the full group was on
screen; face must be visible, back and side shots did not count; did
not count speaking time, ony physical presence on screen." One
must also consider that for most of these debates the candidates
leading in the polls are positioned in the center podiums and those
trailing are at the outside podiums.
3. Eric Ostermeier. "CNN Gives Candidates the Most Rope While FOX Has the Tightest Leash at GOP Debates." Smart Politics [Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs], Feb. 24, 2012.
4. In 2008 and 2004 NPR and Iowa Public Radio organized audio only debates; that will not happen this cycle. There was a Twitter debate. TheTeaParty.net First Presidential Debate on Twitter took place on July 20, 2011.
5. Gingrich is engaged in one-on-one "Lincoln-Douglas style debates" with several of the candidates.
7. 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]