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Republican Campaigns Likely To Take Greater Control Over Debate Formats

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Candidates appear at the third GOP debate last week in Boulder, Colo. There were many complaints from the campaigns about the performance of the moderators from CNBC.i

Candidates appear at the third GOP debate last week in Boulder, Colo. There were many complaints from the campaigns about the performance of the moderators from CNBC.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Candidates appear at the third GOP debate last week in Boulder, Colo. There were many complaints from the campaigns about the performance of the moderators from CNBC.

Candidates appear at the third GOP debate last week in Boulder, Colo. There were many complaints from the campaigns about the performance of the moderators from CNBC.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Updated Sunday at 9:03 pm ET.

Amid a brewing revolt by a number of Republican campaigns over the presidential debates, the Republican National Committee named a new point person to oversee debates, an RNC official confirmed to NPR.

It’s an effort by the RNC to be proactive amid dissension. But the campaigns were meeting Sunday night in Alexandria, Va., a Washington suburb, without the RNC, to discuss debate options outside of the traditional media-moderated debates.

But the campaigns have other plans. A top official inside the room for one of the campaigns tells NPR that the campaigns are looking for — and are likely to get — a greater role in negotiating the formats of debates and in dealing with the networks hosting them. That means having more of a say when it comes to things like opening and closing statements, time for responses and rebuttals and the like.

Possible official language could be coming in the next few days. But there are still plenty of details to be worked out and some disagreements over which outlets should be involved and not. After the CNBC debate Wednesday, the RNC promptly suspended its Feb. 26 debate with NBC, despite the fact that both networks, while both owned by NBC Universal, have different editorial management and controls.

Further complicating matters, the NBC debate was to be co-hosted by National Review and Telemundo, the Spanish-language network. It would have been the only debate on the Republican side with a Spanish-language sponsor.

That was a flashpoint during Sunday night’s campaign conversations. The Bush campaign was pushing to bring Telemundo back into the fold as a media partner, but the Trump campaign was opposed.

Bush speaks Spanish and his wife is Mexican. He has been adamant about the GOP’s need to appeal to Hispanics after the drubbing Mitt Romney took with the group in 2012, winning just 27 percent of Latinos against President Obama. Trump, on the other hand, who has been the clear leader in the GOP primary polls for more than three months, has fanned anti-immigrant flames. His controversial remarks about immigrants and his hard-line immigration plan have dismayed conservative Latinos.

As much pressure as the RNC is under — and as much disappointment the campaigns feel with how the RNC has handled negotiations and enforcement for the debates — this official said Chairman Reince Priebus’ job is not in jeopardy.

The RNC’s Chief of Staff, Katie Walsh, wrote a letter to 14 campaigns on Sunday, as representatives from the campaigns were gathering to plot a way forward on debates.

Walsh said Sean Cairncross, the current chief operating officer of the RNC, will work with campaigns and TV networks on debate format. The contents of the letter, first reported by Politico, were confirmed to NPR.

“I know many of you have expressed some concern regarding how some of the details in the debate process have been handled to this point,” Walsh wrote to the campaigns. “While we believe most of the debate details have been handled well, I want you to know that, at the RNC, we have heard your concerns and take them very seriously.”

During the last GOP debate, hosted by CNBC, candidates complained about the questioning by the moderators from the debate stage, behind the scenes and afterward.

The campaigns did not invite the RNC to participate in their meeting on Sunday evening, but they did invite Ben Ginsberg, an experienced lawyer and adviser to Republican candidates. Ginsburg negotiated debate terms for the campaign of GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. His involvement has caused complaints in conservative media, due to his long history with establishment Republicans.

By turning to Cairncross, the RNC increases the legal and negotiating experience it brings to the debate process. The move was seen as a shakeup of sorts, as the debates were previously under the purview of Sean Spicer, the RNC’s highly visible communications director and chief strategist.

“Wednesday night was a debacle,” Spicer told Politico and NPR. “The RNC’s No. 1 priority is to provide the best debate format for our candidates. Adding Sean in this role is how we can achieve that outcome. The candidates wanted to have another person in the room working on format and logistics. Our goal is to work with the networks to get the best outcome on behalf of our candidates. He’s an experienced election attorney who has relationships with a lot of these players.”

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2015/11/01/453743657/as-campaigns-meet-on-debate-process-rnc-tries-to-reassert-control?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news



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