This just in: The Republican CNN/YouTube debate, in limbo for the past few weeks, is on again.
But Mitt Romney, who won Saturday’s Iowa straw poll and has criticized the debate format, has yet to commit to the Nov. 28 event.
Romney, the lone GOP holdout, has posted more videos on his YouTube channel (283 as of Sunday afternoon) than any other presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat. But he has resisted the debate, in which videotaped questions are submitted through YouTube. In an interview with Manchester Union Leader, Romney said, “I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman.”
That drew a video response from Billiam, the snowman who questioned the Democrats on global warming last month in their YouTube debate. This time, he riffed on another Romney quote from the campaign: “Lighten up slightly.”
Sources at CNN said the debate, co-hosted with the Republican Party of Florida, will be held at the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg. Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube, said that more than 1,100 videos have been submitted, and the popular video-sharing site will allow YouTube users to upload their videos until Nov. 27.
The process is the same as the Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C.: Questions can’t be more than 30 seconds long, and CNN’s political team, led by Washington bureau chief David Bohrman, will select the 30 or so videos for the debate. CNN drew some criticism for including the Billiam question, but Bohrman, the mastermind of the YouTube-CNN marriage, defended the call in a recent interview with The Washington Post: “It was a really good question, and it was funny. I think running for president is serious business … but we do want to know that the president has a sense of humor.”
I understand Romney’s concern about the debate coming off more as a joke than a serious debate about the issues, but the Republican candidates have to walk a fine line here. They can’t be perceived as being too stuffy or stiff because that plays to the stereotype of Republicans. However, they can’t allow themselves to be on video tape coming off as looking ridiculous either. This harkens back to the days of Nixon/Humphrey when Laugh In asked Humphrey to do a “Sock it to me” line but he said no. Although Nixon was reluctant, he agreed to it, and as a result endeared himself to millions of Americans. It’s still probably one of the most famous six seconds on television.