- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All but one of the Republican presidential candidates have agreed to take part in an unconventional YouTube debate, overcoming scheduling conflicts and concerns about its seriousness.

The lone holdout is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the winner of last weekend’s nonbinding Iowa straw poll, and even he is expected to make room in his schedule to participate in the fall forum broadcast on CNN.

“It is great that our candidates have agreed to engage with younger voters and new technology,” said Soren Dayton, co-founder of Save the Debate, a coalition of conservative bloggers that pressured the Republican field.

The debate, originally scheduled for Sept. 17, now will take place on Nov. 28 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“The later date means that more people will be paying attention, and the candidates will engage even more people. The Save the Debate coalition has turned a mistake into a great opportunity,” Mr. Dayton said.

CNN, which is sponsoring the debate with the Florida Republican Party, said Anderson Cooper will be the moderator. Plans call for taped questions no more than 30 seconds in length. CNN producers, led by Washington bureau chief David Bohrman, will select about three dozen questions for the two-hour debate.

Questions will be accepted via YouTube until Nov. 27. More than 1,000 questions already have been submitted for consideration.

Mr. Romney has been the most critical of the debate. In an interview with the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, he said the format was diminishing to the stature of national discourse.

“I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman,” he said in reference to the Democratic candidates’ YouTube debate in South Carolina last month, where an animated snowman asked candidates how they would address global warming.

Sources close to Mr. Romney“s campaign, considered one the most technically savvy, predict he will get on board. His campaign has posted nearly 300 videos the most of any candidate from either party on YouTube.com, with about 700,000 unique viewers.

David All, a Republican Internet consultant who co-sponsored the “Save the Debate” campaign, said the dialogue between conservative bloggers and the candidates is good for Republicans, who by all accounts trail Democrats in the use of new media.

“This needed to happen. We needed to have this discussion,” he said. “A lot of my liberal friends in the blogosphere and people I used to work with from the other side of the aisle on Capitol Hill were actually very supportive.”