Fox News vs New Hampshire over GOP debate

This is going to be awkward, but I expect that Reince Priebus was anticipating a few bumps in the road like this. When the first Fox News GOP debate rolls around on August 6th, there won’t be enough seats on the stage to accommodate every announced candidate. (That’s been obvious for a while, really.) Sticking with the previously agreed upon format, Fox is planning to just include the top ten as defined by their average in the most recent five national polls. It seems that some rather unwise comments were made about Fox “winnowing the field” before New Hampshire holds their primary. I think we all knew how the Granite State GOP was going to react to that. (From the Union Leader)

On the same August night that Fox News hosts a much-criticized and limited Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, the Union Leader will host a New Hampshire Presidential Forum in the first primary state.

It will be televised nationally by C-SPAN, which will also broadcast it on radio.

Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid said the newspaper has been considering such a forum for some time. He said an open protest letter sent Wednesday to Fox and the Republican National Committee from 56 prominent state Republicans should be a wake-up call to everyone in New Hampshire.

“What Fox is attempting to do, and is actually bragging about doing, is a real threat to the first-in-the-nation primary,” McQuaid said. “Fox boasts that it will ‘winnow’ the field of candidates before New Hampshire gets to do so. That isn’t just bad for New Hampshire, it’s bad for the presidential selection process by limiting the field to only the best-known few with the biggest bankrolls. Why the RNC and, especially, its New Hampshire representative, Steve Duprey, would defend this and be a party to it is baffling.”

Not wanting to be outdone, Fox and the RNC immediately added a second “candidate forum” in Cleveland (which I suppose is different from a “debate” somehow) to be held that same afternoon. Presumably, the “lower tier” candidates with numbers below the top ten can take part in that. (Bloomberg)

Fox News said Wednesday it will hold a forum on the afternoon of Aug. 6 for Republican presidential candidates who don’t qualify for the party’s first official debate that evening…

The new Fox forum, which will be held in Cleveland, Ohio, like the debate, will be open to announced Republican White House contenders who scored at least 1 percent support “in an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by Fox News” as of Aug. 4 at 5 p.m. ET, the network said in a statement.

This is going to be interesting to say the least. Reince has been hinting around (and more than hinting) that there may be “penalties” in place for not only states trying to jump the line, but cautions for candidates who can’t manage to stick with the program. The afternoon “candidate forum” will likely be seen by at least some of the participants as basically being the kiddie table at Thanksgiving dinner and it probably won’t draw as many eyeballs as the big show in the evening. Will any of the players who are really desperate to win New Hampshire (particularly the ones who think they don’t have a shot in Iowa or South Carolina) jump ship and go hit the gig with the Union Leader? Jeb Bush comes to mind. And what will become of them if they do?

This is also going to ratchet up the tension between the early primary states and the national organization, which was already coming to a boil. Iowa Republicans are none too happy to see some of the major players skipping their straw poll and heading to the Red State Gathering instead. (A production of our colleagues in the Salem network.) Shaking the iron clad grip of those two states on the primary process is a net plus in my opinion, but they still hold enough power to potentially attract candidates and add even more drama to what was supposed to be a much more drama free process this time around.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be a very hot summer.