Round Up: Meet the New Presidential Debates, Same as the Old Debates

Plus: Chuck Todd shares what he really thinks about the primary debates, a Minnesota League of Women Voters chapter decides the debates will go on, and news from Florida, Oregon, Washington ...

CPD co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Michael McCurry

CPD co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Michael McCurry discuss the presidential debate formats.

The Commission on Presidential Debates on Thursday announced the formats for the three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate scheduled for this fall.

If you had hoped that this year’s debates would mark a bold new integration of technology that greatly enhances civic participation, you’ll be disappointed to learn that little has changed.

During an interview with CPD co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Michael McCurry (above), NBC’s Chuck Todd observed: “The format looks almost exactly the same as four years ago. Am I wrong here?”  
The “big difference,” said McCurry, are the time segments during which the candidates “can actually talk about the future of this country in a reasonable way.”
He was referring to the first and third presidential debates, which will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each. According to the CPD: “The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.”
The vice presidential debate will follow a similar format, though it will be divided into nine segments of approximately 10 minutes each.

The topics will be selected by the moderators of each debate—a single moderator will be chosen for each one—and announced at least one week before the debate.  
The second presidential debate will be a town hall-style debate. An audience of undecided voters will get to ask half of the questions, and the moderator will ask the remaining questions, possibly drawing from topics discussed on Facebook and Twitter.
The CPD has met with dozens of technology, academic and media organizations to discuss how to engage voters, particularly young people, and McCurry earlier hinted that social media would play a larger role in the presidential debates. But aside from College Debate 2016, an initiative aimed at first-time voters, and Join the Debates, designed to help teachers generate discussion in the classroom, there are no plans to either involve the public in crafting questions or to check in with social media during a debate for possible follow-up comments and viewer reactions.
Plus: To say Chuck Todd wasn’t that impressed with the presidential primary debates would be an understatement. “I think the quality of the debates this cycle has stunk,” Todd said during a talk last month before the Seattle CityClub, a civic organization that recently launched the Washington State Debate Coalition.

“Let’s not pretend a lot of it was a lot of candidates, but part of it had too many news executives motivated by the eyeballs and whatever it took to get the candidates on stage,” he added. The debate discussion starts around the 6:00-minute mark.

Host Nationally, Teach Locally: “One of the great achievements in American civic life is the fact that the public, the body politic, now has this expectation that the major candidates are going to come together and, in a civil way, talk about the issues,” W. Taylor Reveley IV, president of Longwood University in Virginia, which is hosting the sole vice-presidential debate, tells the Wall Street Journal.
The school is offering 31 pilot classes this fall related to the election in some way, including “Thinking Strategically: Applied Game Theory,” an Economics course, and “Deception and Lying,” Com 361.


Florida: The News-Journal in Daytona Beach is inviting questions from readers in advance of debates for candidates looking to represent the 6th Congressional District and county sheriff and county chair races.

“Our goal is to ask substantive questions that give candidates an opportunity to truly distinguish themselves to the voters,” said News-Journal Editor Pat Rice.
The News-Journal will record the debates and post them online before the Aug. 30 primary. Stetson University and Daytona State College will co-sponsor the debates.
Debates are also being scheduled in the 68th Congressional District, in the St. Petersburg area, where Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn are vying for the Democratic nomination to run against Republican JB Bensmihen for a seat being vacated by Democrat Dwight Dudley. The Pinellas League of Women Voters has been suggested as a host.
And in the U.S. Senate race, three NPR affiliates—WUSF in Tampa, WMFE in Orlando and WLRN in Miami—are looking to hold debates for both the Democratic and Republican primary candidates. Two Bright House all-news stations, Bay News 9 in Tampa and News 13 in Orlando, are also interested.
Back in April, one of the Senate candidates, Democrat Alan Grayson, took part in an “open debate,” sponsored by the Open Debate Coalition, with questions decided by the public. His opponent in that debate, Republican Rep. David Jolly, has since withdrawn from the Senate race to run for re-election in the 13th Congressional District.
Jolly faces Mark Bircher in the GOP primary. The winner will meet up with former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, in a Sept. 19 debate sponsored by The Tampa Bay Times, 10NewsWTSP and St. Petersburg College.
Minnesota: The Winona chapter of the League of Women Voters announced it will no longer cancel scheduled debate forums if a candidate backs out, reports the Winona Daily News. Under the new policy, the candidate who shows up can give opening and closing statements and answer questions from the audience.
“It is unfair to voters for any one candidate or party to deprive voters of the opportunity to hear first-hand where candidates stand on issues important to them,” said Stephanie Nutall, the Winona chapter’s president. “This policy change respects the time and interests of voters and candidates in attendance.”
Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown has agreed to take part in a debate with Republican challenger Bud Pierce in Bend on Sept. 24. The debate will be hosted by the Oregon Territory chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and focus on rural issues. It will be held before a live audience and distributed via media partners.
Brown has drawn criticism from editorial boards and on social media for refusing to debate before Sept. 1 and for opting to skip a July debate sponsored by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, reports the Statesman Journal.
Virginia: The Republican challenger in the 13th Congressional District, Marty Williams, has challenged U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a 12-term Democrat, to at least six debates. In an unusual move for an incumbent, Scott said six debates would be “woefully inadequate” in a district with eight diverse cities and counties. “Eight is even better!!!” Williams said in an email to Daily Press reporter Travis Fain.
Washington: Proving the demand for debates, the Washington State Debate Coalition announced it will hold gubernatorial and U.S. Senate debates in five cities this fall, reports the Courier-Herald.
After receiving applications from 20 potential hosts, the Coalition selected more than a dozen universities, colleges, business organizations, civic groups and Microsoft. Debate hosts will be assigned specific dates and races later this summer.
“All Washingtonians should have an opportunity to participate in civic discussions and have access to candidates seeking some of the highest offices in our state,” says Diane Douglas, executive director of Seattle CityClub, the founder of the Coalition.