Primary Debates and Forums

FOX News/Google/RPOF Republican Presidential Debate

screen grab
Thursday, September 22, 2011 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL
from 9:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. ET.  1, 2

Sponsors:  FOX News and Google in conjunction with the Republican Party of Florida.

Candidates:  Rep. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Gov. Gary Johson, Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, former Gov. Mitt Romney, and former Sen. Rick Santorum.

Moderator:  Special Report anchor Bret Baier.  Panelists Chris Wallace, host of FOX News Sunday and Megyn Kelly, anchor of America Live.

Audience:  Over 5,000 people including about 3,500 Presidency 5 delegates.

Broadcast:  FOX News Channel (FNC) and live-streamed on, in addition to FOX News Radio, FOX News Mobile, and

Format:  "the debate will incorporate video and text questions submitted by the public on Viewers will be able to vote on the questions they want the candidates to answer, and FOX News will use the votes to help choose which questions are posed to the candidates."  According to the debate website, "FOX News and Google received almost 19,000 questions for the Republican presidential candidates from around the world on different topics.  More than 100,000 votes came in, which helped to determine which questions were posed to the candidates during the debate."  Candidates had one minute for answers and 30 seconds for follow ups.  There was a (new) bell sound to signal time.

Overview:  This debate was part of the RPOF's Presidency 5 activities and came less than two weeks after the CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa.  It played a significant role in the surprising outcome of the Presidency 5 straw poll a day and half later.

Pre-debate conventional wisdom had a two-man race between Gov. Rick Perry, the designated frontrunner, and former Gov. Mitt Romney, something of the establishment favorite; the rest of the field were striving to break through.  The major story line going into the debate was how Perry would fare after enduring attacks from many of the other candidates in the previous debate.  In particular, Romney continued to press Perry on Social Security in the lead up to this debate. 

Perry's performance in this debate, particularly his responses to a couple of questions, did not help him.  His position on in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants was subject of considerable corridor discussion among delegates at Presidency 5.  A Romney campaign spokesman described Perry's response to a question about nuclear weapons in Pakistan falling into the wrong hands as "incoherent."  One P5 delegate who attended the debate said that before the debate among the people seated around him there was a strong sense or feeling towards Perry, but afterwards it was "like somebody punched a hole in the balloon."

After being excluded from the last four debates, former Gov. Gary Johnson finally made the cut, resulting in nine candidates on stage.  Johnson had the least speaking time of any of the candidates, but he did get off the one-liner of the evening: “My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.”  (Johnson says he came up with the line, although an aide tweeted under his name, "Re: the dogs, I understand Rush Limbaugh made the same point. Credit to Rush for a great and very true line.")  In any event, the line had an effect; the next day Johnson would claim to be "the most googled name on the planet."

1. Submit and vote on questions:  See also: Google Public Sector and Elections Lab.

2. FOX and the RPOF had a bit of a disagreement over Johnson's inclusion.  RPOF spokesman Brian Hughes explained:

"On the criteria issue, the Republican Party of Florida and FOX agreed months ago, weeks ago at least, on a criteria which was, as it's written, just basically says a federally qualified, registered campaign is the first criteria.  The next piece is you take the five most recent national credibly recognized polls and you average a candidate's performance in the polls.  If they cross a one-percent threshold, they'll be invited.  The RPOF has been moving forward on that criteria as being what would happen.  And based on that we determined the eight national leading candidates who would appear on our straw poll ballot. 

"FOX a couple of days ago informed us that their read of that exact same criteria was that the five most recent national polls that include the candidate,  By our calculation if we take the five most recent, if a candidate wasn't listed for part of the poll, then that's a zero.  That person wasn't in the poll so there's no points to be conducted in the average.  But FOX said if you look at the last five that candidate was in, that's where you do the calculation.  There was a candidate that they went back and did a calculation of who's been added to the debate roster in the last day and a half."

3. Analysis by the website "Dawn of the Weak" of candidate talking time during the debate found that Romney led at 12:09 followed by Perry (11:10), Huntsman (07:41), Santorum (07:06), Cain (06:23), Bachmann (06:13), Gingrich (05:44), Paul (04:33) and Johnson (04:10).