Presidential races

Republicans struggle with defections from debates plan

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The Republican presidential campaigns seeking to influence network control over the debate formats are dealing with a handful of defections as they seek to cobble together a coalition with enough heft to achieve their demands.

{mosads}Late Tuesday, Jeb Bush joined the list of candidates who would not sign on to a letter many of the campaigns planned to sign that outlines the list of demands they hope to extract from the networks over the debate formats.

That comes a day after the group was stung by the loss of Donald Trump, who said that instead of brokering a deal with the coalition of campaigns, he’d negotiate on his own, claiming that he’d done so for the three previous debates.

In addition to Bush, the campaigns for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Ohio Gov. John Kasich said they also wouldn’t sign the letter, drafted by Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg.

Fiorina took a parting shot at the group, mocking their efforts.

“We have consistently and successfully discussed our concerns with the networks and the voters–and not behind closed doors like the political class seems to like to do,” Fiorina wrote in an email to Ginsberg. 

“We encourage each of the campaigns addressed here to do the same. … We do not care whether it’s 67 degrees or our green room isn’t as plush as another candidate.”

One of the demands in a draft letter obtained by The Hill was that the debate room be kept below 67 degrees.

Fiorina’s campaign was the only one not represented at a Sunday night gathering to hash out the details of the letter.

Still, several campaigns remain committed to signing the letter and jointly negotiating with the networks ahead of the debates.

Carson’s campaign, which is spearheading the effort, is working furiously to push forward. The retired neurosurgeon is leading in many national and early-state polls and gives the group the heavyweight it needs.

In addition, campaign advisers for Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee and Lindsey Graham say they’re still on board.

“Our issue is not the letter,” Jindal spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said in a Tuesday email. “Our issue continues to be that the Party and the networks continue to try and winnow out candidates before the voters have a chance to weigh in. No matter who you are for, or what side you are on, that’s just wrong. 

Representatives for Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and George Pataki did not return requests for comment.

In a late Monday interview, Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett insisted that Trump’s defection didn’t change anything and that the group hoped to have a finalized list of demands in the next couple of days that will be distributed among the campaigns.

In addition to the letter, the campaigns plan on holding conference calls with the networks ahead of the debates to negotiate the terms.

The group is largely split on their demands, with the diverse group of candidates looking to achieve different goals, depending on their standings in the race.

Jindal is pushing for early voting state polling to be among the criteria the networks consider for the main stage participants, as he’s seen a bump in Iowa.

Graham would like to see all of the candidates on the main stage or for the debates to be split into two evenly distributed stages determined by random draw.

Still, the group believes it has already achieved its main goal of seizing negotiating power from the Republican National Committee (RNC), which had been dealing directly with the networks on the candidates’ behalf.

The campaigns were frustrated that they were not getting information in a timely manner from the RNC and believed the national GOP group didn’t negotiate fiercely enough on their behalf.

Speaking Monday night on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus said he’s happy the campaigns have taken more control over the process.

“This is heading in the right place, which is the candidates want to have more control, at least some of the candidates want to have control over the formatting questions,” Priebus said.

The RNC will be relegated to the logistics of the debate process going forward, such as media credentialing and the sanctioning of the debates.

Responding to the furor over the CNBC debate, the RNC moved to punish the network’s parent company, NBC, by suspending its February debate with partner Telemundo.

“I think where this is going is actually to a good place, where the candidates are going to be more involved on that piece, and we’ll be involved in the sanctioning of the debates, the calendar, and all of the logistics, plus the power and authority to de-sanction a debate if there’s an agreement with the candidates that they’re not getting what they want,” Priebus said.

There is consensus among the group on some issues.

They want a commitment from the networks that there will be a focus on substantive issues, to do away with quick-hit questions they believe lead to “gotcha” moments and to steer clear from pitting the candidates against one another through personal attacks.

They are also pushing for fair speaking time allotments; don’t want the debates to go on longer than two hours; and several candidates want conservative media stars such as Glenn Beck or Mark Levin to moderate the debates.

Tags Donald Trump Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz
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