Primary Debates and Forums

CNN/Tea Party Express Republican Presidential Debate

screen grab
Monday, September 12, 2011 in the Special Events Center Building at the Florida
State Fairgrounds in Tampa, FL from 8:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. ET. 
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Sponsors:  Tea Party Express and CNN, with participation and involvement from co-host local tea party groups in every state across the country.

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

Moderator:  CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer.

Audience:  In part members from tea party groups in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

Broadcast:  Broadcast live on CNN, CNN International,, and CNN Radio. The debate will be available via live stream in the CNN Apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.

Format:  "The Tea Party Debate will focus only on the core principles and values of the tea party movement: limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility."

Candidates gave brief introductions (Blitzer: "keep it very, very short.") "Each candidate will have about one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals."

"In addition to questions from Blitzer, audience members inside the debate hall, made up in part by members from tea party groups in 31 states and the District of Columbia, will be invited to ask questions directly to the candidates. Questions will also be taken live from tea party members at debate watch parties in Phoenix, Ariz.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Portsmouth, Virginia. Online, CNN will solicit questions via comments on, the CNN Politics Facebook page, and by using the #CNNTeaParty hashtag on Twitter."

Overview:  This debate was the most free-flowing thus far, marked by a number of direct exchanges between candidates.  Perry had a rough night, being taken to task by Romney on Social Security, by Bachmann and Santorum on his HPV vaccine executive order, and by just about everyone on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

The debate was the second full debate in less than a week, and it pretty much picked up where the last one ended.  The first question, from a Tea Party activist, was "How will you convince senior citizens that Social Security and Medicare need to be changed and get their vote?"  This led to a lengthy exchange between Perry and Romney with Blitzer pretty much letting the two have at it.  Romney challenged Perry, "But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and returned to the states or do you want to retreat from that?"  Perry responded, "I think we ought to have a conversation."

One moment that drew a fair bit of notice occurred following Blitzer's hypothetical question to Paul on health insurance.  After Blitzer's follow up question, "Are you saying that society should just let him die?" someone in the audience yelled "yeah!"  Paul gave a reasonable answer ("I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, and the churches took care of them.  We never turned anybody away from the hospitals."), but it was a discordant moment.

Blitzer closed out the debate on a lighter note, asking the candidates, for their "thoughts on something you would bring to the White House if you were the next president of the United States."

According to the Tea Party Express website, "This date was chosen because it is such a significant day in the history of the tea party movement: the anniversary of the massive 'March on D.C.' which demonstrated the power and size of the tea party."  About one year from now the Republican National Convention will take place in this city.

1. See also Tea Party Presidential Debate Presented by CNN