- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Republican presidential candidates are wise to reconsider their rejection of YouTube as a debating format. Their decision to embrace the debate medium — excepting Mitt Romney, who has yet to come on board — is a savvy step toward closing the technology gap with their rival Democrats, a gap that could be pivotal for victory in 2008.

Now that the YouTube debate, co-sponsored with CNN, is set for Nov. 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla., Republicans should continue recognizing the integral role YouTube and other social-networking sites play in the lives of voters, particularly among younger demographic groups, who favor Democrats over Republicans by large margins. Republicans must continue vying for this crucial group if they hope to retain long-term relevance.

While there is truth in the criticism that the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate on July 23 contained frivolous fare — everything from a melting snowman to a woman in her bathroom — the format offers a national town-hall discussion, where candidates showcase their ability to respond to creative, probing questions with frank, unscripted answers. To ensure electoral success, Republicans must understand that in this digital YouTube age, answering bizarre video inquiries from men dressed like Vikings and chickens will soon join the ranks of baby-kissing and cornfield-stumping as typical campaign dues.

The first YouTube debate proved CNN must be more judicious in its question selections and avoid substituting humor for substance. CNN aired 39 video questions out of some 3,000 submissions. Thus far, YouTube, which merely funnels the videos to CNN for their editorial selection, has received 1,250 video questions. David Bohrman, CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, told The Washington Times he and his team of reviewers expect to receive as many as 5,000 videos this time around. He and his team are laudably reaching out to the online grass-roots conservative movement, the movers and shakers of the Republican Party who will ultimately select a Republican nominee. We hope the Bohrman team will select questions that are both penetrating and appropriate for the distinguished venue of a presidential debate.

Republicans, for the most part, are flailing behind Democrats in the technology arena. Press reports indicate that during the first six months of 2007, the three leading contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination raised more than $28 million online, a figure double that of the $14 million in Web donations collected by the top three Republican candidates. Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s Web site traffic far surpasses their Republican counterparts. Internet users on sites like Facebook and MySpace overwhelmingly favor Democrats. Republicans must expand their efforts if they hope to stay afloat in cyberspace. YouTube debates are a logical step.

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