- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2011

Key GOP activists have come out in support of a drive by the Republican National Committee to wrest what has been exclusive control of the presidential nomination debate process from what they see as the liberal-leaning television networks and national press even though aides to some potential candidates are privately not happy with the idea.

RNC officials said the idea is for the party organization itself to take control this year of the debate schedules, the selection of moderators for each debate and the issues to be discussed as Republicans pick a challenger to President Obama next year.

“The RNC should have started doing this long ago,” Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots Chairman Mark Kevin Lloyd told The Washington Times. “Trusting the media to do the right thing has historically proved to be disappointing.”

Candidates and their campaigns who agree to participate in RNC-sponsored debates would be free to accept additional debate invitations from news and other outside organizations, according to a plan offered by a newly formed debate committee within the RNC.

Indiana RNC member James Bopp Jr., chairman of the new RNC Debate Committee, has already met with nine of the 11 prospective 2012 candidates or their representatives, along with RNC member Steve King and RNC Chief of Staff Jeff Larson.

“The bottom line is that Republican activists believe that this is our nominating process and having liberal journalists vet our candidates through numerous debates undermines our candidates and does not assist us to pick a candidate who can defeat President Obama,” Mr. Bopp told The Times.

Iowa GOP activist Kim Lehman told The Times she thinks “it makes sense to host debates since the RNC is responsible for the party’s presidential primary.”

Mrs. Lehman, an RNC member, added that it is “good to see the party’s leadership think outside the box.”

The RNC hopes to turn the old debate format characterized by “gotcha” questions from liberal reporters into something more like a televised session in which experts from think tanks and other sources interview candidates on specific issues as if the candidates were interviewing for a job.

“The objective of the RNC debates will be to provide a fair and balanced forum for the Republican candidates to get their messages to the voters regarding their candidacies without the media-driven filtering, so we can choose the best candidate for the Republican nomination,” Kansas RNC member Helen Van Etten told The Times.

The RNC plan would put the first debate off until August, which elicited objections from aides to the budding campaign organizations of lesser-known potential candidates.

The online news site Politico, citing unnamed representatives of three GOP potential candidates, reported on the unhappiness in some camps.

“This [debate process] is a matter that should be left to the campaigns,” one aide told Politico. “The RNC should be focused on Democrats and Obama. The ownership over this belongs to the campaigns.”

In 2007 and 2008, 23 debates took place featuring GOP presidential contenders.

But the plan being developed by Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus and the RNC’s newly formed Debate Committee would limit RNC-controlled debates to one a month starting in August.

“Using the Priebus debate plan, we’d find out which candidate is most qualified based on his experience and skills to govern as a true conservative,” Ted Campbell, an Oregon leader of Americans for Prosperity, told The Times.

“I would hope that the RNC would use this as an opportunity to reach out and include the spectrum of conservative thought,” Mr. Lloyd said. “Hopefully, they will restore the [Ronald] Reagan model.”

Representatives of potential campaigns worry that the mainstream media is out to create controversy by having GOP candidates attack each other, rather than President Obama.

“The liberal debate moderators, which we often get, also want to attack our candidates for being too conservative,” Mr. Bopp said, citing one 2007 debate question by MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews to Sen. John McCain asking the Arizona Republican if he believed in evolution.

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