Debates have had consequences this time around
October 18th, 2011
03:02 PM ET
11 years ago

Debates have had consequences this time around

Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) - In a city where fortunes are won and lost, there's a safe bet about Tuesday night's CNN Western Republican debate: It will influence the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

The debate in Las Vegas is the fifth showdown since Labor Day, and the eighth overall this cycle. And while the number of debates might normally dilute their impact, just the opposite appears to be happening – debates this cycle have had consequences, contributing critical moments to the nomination battle and influencing national polling in the Republican horse race.

Programming note: GOP presidential candidates next face off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, October 18, in the CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. Submit your questions for the debate here.

In the days leading up to the June 13 CNN/WMUR/New Hampshire Union Leader debate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was criticizing the health care law passed in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor, comparing it to and calling it the inspiration for the national health care plan signed into law last year by President Barack Obama. Pawlenty termed it "Obamney-care." But Pawlenty failed to go after Romney on the issue at the debate, even when given the opportunity by CNN's John King, the moderator.

"The Pawlenty experience should make it clear that these debates do matter. [Pawlenty's] campaign was essentially over when he wouldn't take King's bait on the 'Obamney-care' issue," said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist who advised Fred Thompson during his 2008 GOP presidential bid, and who is the author of, an online column.

"The fact that the debate took place on June 13 and there were no other joint appearances scheduled until August 11 - two months later - meant that Pawlenty's 'timid' response stuck with him until the next debate," Galen added.

While Pawlenty did attack Romney in that Iowa debate, the damage was already done and he dropped out of race days later after a poor showing at a crucial straw poll in the Hawkeye State.

Fast forward to late September when Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who launched his campaign in mid-August, surged to the top of the polls. An uneven performance at a debate in Orlando, Florida, followed two days later by a poor showing at a much-watched straw poll in the Sunshine State, sparked a dramatic decline for Perry in the polls.

"Debates are disproportionally influential this cycle," said says former George W. Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who's also a GOP strategist and a CNN political contributor. "Unlike previous years when candidates were better known and had solidified support, this year no one's support is solid. So debates are shaping opinions like never before. This year it's a wide open cast of characters."

"Pawlenty was proof of how influential these debates have been," Fleischer added.

And it seems that voters are watching. This time around ratings research indicates that almost twice as many viewers are tuning into the early primary debates compared to four years ago.

A Pew poll released earlier this month indicated that about a third of Republicans say they have watched a GOP presidential debate so far this year, with more than half of Republicans who support the tea party movement saying they have tuned in to a debate. According to the survey, around four in 10 Republicans said the debates have led them to change their minds about the candidate they were backing, and that figure's even higher among tea party supporters.

"At a critical moment for our country and economy, voters are getting to know the GOP candidates as well or better than they know our president. These debates have been great for voters and the country," said GOP strategist and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos.

- Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PSteinhauserCNN

Also see:

Iowa caucuses to be held January 3

Paul proposes cutting $1 trillion in first year

Cain: 'I haven't learned to be politically correct'

Hispanic caucus chairman rips Cain's border fence "joke"

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Maggie53

    I feel that debates do not make a good president. We had a good debater in Obama and look what we ended with ......a big disappointment. Obama has the gift of the gab but when it comes to action, he is completely hopeless. Action speaks louder than words and I thought we had learnt our lesson from our experience with Obama. Let us not get fooled again but be wise with our choice this time or we might end up destroying our country with whom we choose.

    October 18, 2011 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. The Greedy Old PIgs have declared class war on US!

    More garbage from CNN as it seeks to hype its own role in this travesty of Krazy Klown Konservativism. How about asking some tough questions for a change? Ask how the GOBP intends to care for the needy instead of the greedy. Ask what sacrifices these deathcult members are asking their Big Business and ultra-rich overlords to make.

    October 18, 2011 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  3. Lando

    The ciowns are coming...ha-ha-ha-ha-ha

    October 18, 2011 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  4. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Mittens won in the last debate, and his approval barely moved. Republicans are not looking for a leader of the free world, they are looking for someone who will protect their billions, and makeup up crap about the president.

    October 18, 2011 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  5. MTATL67

    This debates also show their lack of leadership. If they would come to the defense of the soldier or the defense of common decency. Shouting "let him die" like they were in a Roman arena. They would not truly defend the constitution or the freedoms of the United States.

    October 18, 2011 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    I expect this debate to more civilized, only because it does not appear to be linked to the Tea Party. But, I don't hold out hope that it will. Some people have excused the vulgar outbursts from the audience during a few past debates as being isolated crack pots who do not represent the majority of the Grand Old Tea Party.

    I beg to differ with that excuse. Almost everyone in the audiences has been hand picked as being the best of the best supporters. Those audiences represent the staunchest Tea Party supporters. Those vulgar outbursts came from those who are local Tea Party leaders, not miscelleaneous members who just happened to get lucky and get a seat at a nationally televised presidential debate. Those in the audience earned their seats.

    October 18, 2011 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  7. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Maggie-Don't forget that President Obama is smarter than any of the GOP candidates. By the way, I get the impression that you were not in favor of helping 50,000,000 uninsured Americans, you are not in favor of women's rights or equal rights, you are not in favor of job creation, you are not in favor of the success our president has had in the war on terror, You were not in favor of loaning money to GM and Chrysler to save almost 2 million auto related jobs, you are against: teachers, firemen, and police, you are opposed to strengthening social security and medicare, you do not believe in fixing our infrastructure, you are against the middle class and poor, and believe that the republican class warfare against the middle class for the last 30 years has not divided our country.

    October 18, 2011 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  8. John in Colorado

    Everyone is talking around the issue. The question is "Why" are the debates so influential this time around? The answer is that Romney, the presumed front runner is so weak. He doesn't inspire much excitement especially from the fired-up base of the GOP: The Tea Party. They don't trust that he is a man of convictions. They perceive him as a flip-flopper that will do or say whatever is expedient politically. The generates the fear that he would not stick to the ideological agenda of the far right were he to get elected. Made up in large part by so-colled born-again Christians, they don't trust his Mormanism. The Rev Jeffress gave voice to what many of them are feeling; that this sect is really weird and yes maybe it is a cult with its third biblical testament: the Book of Morman. Then there is RomneyCare that he is forced to defend. Then there is his record as a business executive: advising client companies to ship jobs overseas and pay him part of the savings. Then he supported civil unions. Then he is from that uber-liberal state: Massachusetts. No it's just too much. The Tea Party will sit this one out.

    October 18, 2011 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  9. Trevor Myers

    Ron Paul if given the time to speak will crush all on the stage.

    October 18, 2011 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. Recovering Republican

    Debates show brains, which is something the GOP has lacked for a while. So let the GOP get back to sucking up to the neoconservatives, and let the DNC show up with the brains. It is possible to be inteligent and pious, but not in the GOP.

    October 18, 2011 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  11. Wayne Phillips

    That would be a great debate question. We know that you all want to reduce the deficit. We know that you want to reduce the deficit by asking Seniors to sacrifice Medicare and Social Security by cutting these programs. At the end of 2010 you negotiated with President Obama to extend Bush tax cuts which gave every millionaire in the country $80,000 dollars. Extension of tax cuts have not helped the job situation in America. My question is what would you ask those at the top 1% of earners to sacrifice towards reducing the deficit?

    October 18, 2011 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  12. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    The question on Teavangelicals minds, "Did Rick Perry take a few naps like McCain suggested?"

    October 18, 2011 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  13. Jerry

    Ron Paul will win as usual and be ignored by CNN. The Media is not on our side.

    October 18, 2011 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. James K.

    Is the debate being held at Circus Circus?

    October 18, 2011 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  15. FoolKiller

    "Debates have had consequences this time around" Silly reporter. Consequences are for Republicans... Democrats can say ANYTHING and get a free pass. (If you have to ask for examples, you are part of the problem.)

    October 18, 2011 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  16. Mark

    Well said, Wire Palladin!

    October 18, 2011 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  17. JJ

    I hope and pray that the consequences include deportation.

    October 18, 2011 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  18. Are You Kidding?

    none of these political puppets are what the country needs. We need a candidate that doesn't follow in the legacy of Reagan. ONE who has the guts to be honest with the American people.

    October 18, 2011 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  19. Scott in Arizona

    Coup da tat NOW!

    October 18, 2011 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  20. Carol

    We have to hear about these debates for a year? I am bored to death with all this bs.

    October 18, 2011 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  21. petemg

    Instead of pointing fingers at each other, they need to present their ideas and give each other a chance to speak. They need to have a solution. As far as Paul and Gingrich they need to step out. They only debate when it is convenient for them. They are hurting the whole GOP instead of helping. Bachman needs to also step. Many of them are totally useless and using money. Who is minding D.C., their position while they are out playing. Let us get down to business. Congress is following Obama's lead as being non productive. Somebody needs to take the initiative and unite since Obama is campaigning and not working.

    October 18, 2011 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  22. 2012

    Sad to see ALL the name calling, but when you have results like the DEMS and Obama have what else can you say. But still sad.

    October 18, 2011 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  23. carlos

    Rommey = Obamacare
    Cain = an angry and liar crow
    Perry = brainless


    October 18, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  24. Pastor Russ

    The REAL questions are these "Are we better off than we were three years ago" and "How is HOPE and CHANGE working out for YOU"

    October 18, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  25. Tony

    I am sorry, I am not into mental mid.gets.

    October 18, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
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