Primary Debates and Forums

Western Republican Leadership Conference/CNN Debate

screen grab
Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, NV
from 8:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. ET. 
1, 2 

Sponsors:  CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference (WRLC).

Candidates:  Rep. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, former Gov. Mitt Romney, and former Sen. Rick Santorum.  (Former Gov. Jon Huntsman was invited, but boycotted).

Moderator:  Anderson Cooper.

Audience:  "Voters from the 16 states and territories that make up the Western region of the United States will be in the audience."

Broadcast:  CNN, CNN en Español will take the debate live with simultaneous interpretation, and the debate will be carried live on CNN International. will live stream the event.

Format:  Instead of formal opening statements, candidates provided brief introductions of themselves.  One minute to answer questions; 30 seconds for responses.  No buzzers or bells.  Some questions from the audience and Twitter.

Overview: This was the second debate in a week.  According to the CNN press release, Western states and issues were to "take center stage" at this debate; there were questions on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and foreclosures, but all in all most of the debate had a national focus.  The debate picked up where the last one ended, focusing on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan; Cain's competitors panned the plan. 

During the course of the evening, there were a number of sharp exchanges.  Adam Graham, writing at "Race 4 2012," observed that, "Cooper was not so much a moderator, as he was a provoker.  Rather than viewing the debates as an opportunity to educate the voters, Cooper’s questions set out to draw Republican candidates in cage fight style confrontations and it worked several times." (+)  On his "Dawn of the Weak" blog, Wes Hemings observed that, "Tracking time was the most difficult yet with all the temper tantrums on display..."  While some of sparring may have been due to Cooper as moderator, several of the candidates seemed primed to attack.  Mitt Romney seemed to be the prime target.  For example, Santorum took Romney to task, stating " just don't have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare."

Perry launched the most direct broadside, charging, "And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year.  And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy."  (This was a story from 2006-07 about a company Romney had hired to do lawn care).  The tone became very testy.  At one point Romney told Perry, "You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking. And I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you have got to let both people speak."

Analysis by the website "Dawn of the Weak" of candidate talking time during the debate found a somewhat more even distribution of time than in the last debate. Romney had 15:11 of total talk time (20:78%) followed by Perry (11:01), Paul (10:05), Bachmann (9:58), Santorum (9:50), Cain (9:06), and Gingrich (7:53).