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A small group of Republican presidential candidates led by Ben Carson’s campaign moved forward late Tuesday night with its plan to take greater control over negotiating the terms of future debates.
Carson Campaign Manager Barry Bennett circulated a letter to Republican campaign advisers with a list of questions for the networks to answer before the candidates commit to participating.
“The answers you provide to these questions are part of a process that each campaign will use to determine whether its candidate will participate in your debate,” the letter states.
“All the candidates recognize that robust debates are an important part of the primary elections. It is also important that all debates be appropriate platforms for discussing substantive issues and the candidates’ visions for the future.”
The letter is significantly scaled back from draft versions that circulated earlier in the week, which included demands about the temperature of the debate room, and control over camera angles and the graphics displayed on-screen while the candidates speak.
The latest version of the letter is merely a list of questions, such as criteria for inclusion, who the moderators will be, the length of the debates, how much speaking time will be allotted for answers and rebuttals, and whether the candidates will be standing at podiums or seated at tables.
Bennett hopes to send the letter to the networks on Wednesday. It can be read in full here:
Once those questions are answered, the candidates are requesting conference calls with the networks to further negotiate the terms of the debates.
Representatives from nearly all of the 15 Republican presidential campaigns gathered at a hotel in the Washington suburbs Sunday night to hash out how to gain more control over the debate process.
But the group of signers on the final letter will likely be far smaller.
On Monday, GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDems: Trump’s first 100 days full of broken promises to middle class Judd Gregg: Trump gets his sea legs Week ahead: US raises pressure on WikiLeaks MORE announced that he would not join the coalition, but rather would negotiate directly with the networks on his own. Bennett insisted that Trump’s aims are still aligned with those of the group, with the only change being that the billionaire businessman would send his questions and demands on his own letterhead.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businesswoman Carly Fiorina announced later Monday that they also would not sign on.
On Tuesday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush followed suit, as did Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzWeek ahead in tech: Trump's antitrust pick heads before Senate Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's FDA pick Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road MORE (R-Texas).
Still, there appears to be enough of a coalition for the candidates to move forward. Having Carson involved in the process should give the group plenty of leverage, considering his standing in the race.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will put his name on the letter. A representative from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign said they were likely to join as well. A spokesperson for Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamRussian interference looms over European elections Graham: I’m ‘all in’ for Trump Graham: US on a collision course with North Korea MORE’s (R-S.C.) campaign did not return a late-night email, but signaled Monday that they were still on board.
Representatives for Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWe can put America first by preventing public health disasters Conservative activists want action from Trump McConnell: 'Big challenge' to pass ObamaCare repeal in Senate MORE (R-Ky.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign said they were still looking over the final draft.
Representatives from Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE’s (R-Fla.) campaign have declined to discuss the matter.
Regardless, Bennett said in a phone call that the group had already achieved its main objective.
So far in the cycle, the Republican National Committee (RNC) had been responsible for negotiating the terms of the debates directly with the networks. Now the RNC has been sidelined and will merely handle logistics, such as media credentialing and the sanctioning of debates.
The campaigns believe this will help them get information from the networks about the rules and set-up for the debates at a far earlier point in the process.
From there, the campaigns believe they can extract further demands, potentially influencing who the moderators are; limiting the length of the debates; ensuring there are opening and closing statements; pushing for a fair distribution of speaking times; and possibly eliminating “lightning round” questions they believe lead to “gotcha” moments.
Furthermore, the campaigns believe their actions will help to avoid a repeat of last week’s CNBC debate. The campaigns say they've made a strong statement that they won’t be broadsided by unfair moderators determined to focus on politics over substance, or seeking to pit the candidates against one another through personal attacks.