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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Republican Debates a Grand Old Disappointment

    When I first heard that the November 28th Republican debate was being co-hosted by both CNN and Youtube, I was excited. Finally, there was a chance for average Americans to ask the important questions of important people. As a registered Republican, I was especially interested in hearing how various candidates would answer questions about the Iraq War and the economy, which will perhaps be the two most important issues Americans will face in the upcoming years.

    Because of the Youtube format, I expected candidates such as Rep. Ron Paul and former governor Mike Huckabee, who have a large online following (especially Paul) to get fielded many good questions. However, CNN disappointed; while Huckabee has a decent showing, Ron Paul got disappointingly few questions, and did not talk until at least a half an hour into the debate.

    You would think that out of the thousands of questions submitted by Youtube, CNN could have found questions that dealt with relevant issues. However, more than half the debate, in my estimation, was given to abortion, immigration and gun control; and even one question about flying the confederate flag. While these may be important topics, I think they could have easily been covered in half the time. Abortion, especially, is not a hot button issue for me, and I think for many Republicans not part of the religious right.

    Ron Paul was fielded two questions that were not very important to his campaign; a question about a potential North American Union and whether he’d run as an independent candidate if he didn’t receive the party’s nomination (he’s stated dozens of times that he has no intention of doing so). Issues where Ron Paul stands out from other republicans, especially foreign policy and the economy did not come up in the questions.

    I expected Ron Paul to have the more speaking time. His support has been growing, seemingly exponentially, since the last republican debate. He stunned the mainstream media by raising $4.2 million dollars in a single day last month, a record in political fundraising. He has raised over $10 million dollars this quarter and is expected to exceed his quarterly goal of $12 million, due to another planned mass fundraising day on December 16th. He’s one of the few republican candidates whose fundraising has improved this quarter.

    It is also impossible to gauge exactly how much support he has. Wherever Ron Paul speaks, thousands of devoted followers show up. These “Paulites” have donated countless hours and dollars on their own grassroots campaign trail. One man even donated nearly $100,000 to run a full page ad in USA Today the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, widely recognized as the heaviest travel day of the year. At the CNN/Youtube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida, approximately 500 Paulites showed up outside the arena to cheer on their candidate, armed with several planes and a boat, bearing messages supporting the candidate. While, from eyewitness accounts, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee had a few supporters show up each, they were sidely outshone in enthusiasm and numbers by the Ron Paul supporters.

    If this is the case, why wasn’t Ron Paul given more time to speak? I don’t like to tout conspiracy theory, but it seems as if CNN had it in for Dr. Paul.

    However, I don’t think that Paul was uniquely ‘teamed up’ on. Relatively few of the candidates got a chance to speak about the important issues because they just weren’t being asked about them. In fact, in the days after the debate, there was some very serious charges about how many of the Youtube questioners chosen by CNN seemed to openly support Democratic candidates. Retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr, who is, incidentally openly gay, and asked a question about the military’s ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy’ is an active campaigner for Hillary Clinton.

    But so what? As long as the questions were good, it shouldn’t matter what candidates the questioners support, right? Well, in theory, that makes sense, but in practice, the questions chosen by CNN seemed to pigeonhole republicans into stereotypes that democrats accuse them of.

    For example, there were a few questions about the Bible and whether the candidates interpreted it literally. While it was interesting to see Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Rudy Guiliani’s, who I doubt has ever opened a Bible, responses, this issue couldn’t have been less important to me. It seems as if CNN purposefully chose questions that would make republicans seem like fundamental religious righters and gun-toting rednecks. CNN has been accused of leaning to the left before, so it probably wouldn’t surprise me if this was done on purpose.

    In addition to the poor quality of the questions, for the most part, the candidates’ performances weren’t that impressive either. There were a few moments of greatness; besides for John McCain educating Mitt Romney about waterboarding, and Ron Paul’s last remarks about his ‘R3VOLUTION’, for example. However, most of the other debate tactics, especially from Romney and Guiliani, were full of sly derisions and veiled personal attacks. Huckabee, while he gave a good performance, left the impression that there isn’t much substance to him. He is a well spoken orator, but his policies speak for himself; he is loved by the religious right because of his policies of social progressivism and desire to turn his personal morality into national law.

    I left this debate with slightly more respect for John McCain, though I still believe his views on Iraq are misguided. Many of the other candidates leave much to be desired, a view expressed by the focus group of about a dozen republicans interviews by CNN at the end of the debate, although one of these ‘republicans’ admitted to being a John Edwards supporter.

    My last issue with the CNN network, was that it lacked a text message poll that has been at every other debate, where viewers can decide on the winner. Ron Paul, has been voted the winner of every debate, save the first one (which he came in second); coincidence? Reader’s may recall the last issue of the Statesman, where author Adam Peck cited Mike Huckabee as being the “victor of the debate. However, I have seen no nationwide poll conducted which awarded Huckabee awarded this title. While I agree that text messaging polls have their sample bias, it is better than no poll at all. It is certainly better than declaring a victor without conducting any poll.

    At this stage in the game, it is impossible to detect how many supporters Ron Paul and the other candidates actually have as even professional polls have their sample bias. Generally, they are conducted over landline phones of voters who have registered Republican as of the 2000 election. This largely excludes young voters from registering in the polls.

    We will have to wait for the primaries to see how much support each candidate really has.

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