Four months after Democrats took a stab at answering questions posed by a snowman, a lesbian couple, and a tax-hating minstrel, it's the Republicans' turn.
The rescheduled CNN/YouTube Republican debate will take place Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., where GOP hopefuls will get their chance to answer about 40 handpicked videotaped queries submitted by ordinary citizens to the video-sharing website YouTube.
While almost 5,000 videos were uploaded to the site from users of all backgrounds, ages, and political persuasions, a handful of CNN journalists are the ones responsible for choosing those that will actually be put in front of the candidates. There's no way to tell which questions are going to picked, but here are five things viewers can watch for while tuning in to the debate.
1. The Return of the Snowman
The CNN/YouTube Republican debate was the debate that almost didn't happen. Originally scheduled for September, several of the front-runners, including John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney, said they wouldn't be able to make it. Former Massachusetts Governor Romney was the most adamantly opposed to the new debate format. "I think from what I've heard that level of respectfulness was breached." Romney said. "I don't know if it makes sense to have people running for president answering questions posed from snowmen." (Billiam the Snowman was interested in hearing the Democrats' views on global warming.)
Upon hearing that the GOP hopefuls were getting cold feet, Republican bloggers and activists banned together and created SavetheDebate.com, a website encouraging the Republican candidates to get on board. Even the snowman asked candidate Romney to "lighten up slightly." The debate was saved and rescheduled for this week—making it even more influential, according to one of the SavetheDebate.com founders, Patrick Ruffini, since it is now one of the last GOP debates before the important Iowa caucuses held in early January. And even more questions were submitted for this debate than for the Democratic debate—about 2,000 additional—including one from Billiam the Snowman asking Romney how he responds to being called a "flip-flopper."
2. (At Least Some) GOP-Friendly Questions
Once the debate was rescheduled, the focus of SavetheDebate.com transitioned. The website's founders encouraged conservatives to submit questions on issues of particular interest to Republican voters in hopes that they would challenge the perception that Republicans are less Web-savvy than their Democratic counterparts. Browsing through some of the almost 5,000 submissions, Ruffini and Rob Bluey, a blogger for the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said they were pleased with the quality of the questions coming from conservatives; however, they said they didn't want CNN to pick all conservative questions for the candidates.
"I hope that they have some tough questions that come from the left and come from the right," Bluey said. "Nobody wants to see them select softball questions." However, Ruffini noted that the majority of the questions posed to the Democrats at their CNN/YouTube debate in July seemed to be coming from Democratic voters. "It's now up to the moderators to ask questions that are broadly representative of the political spectrum," Ruffini said.
3. Nothing Too Controversial
However, leaving the question choices up to CNN was a point of contention for the Democratic debate and continues to be controversial for the Republican one as well. While there is a mixed bag of questions CNN can choose from, one comment by CNN's David Bohrman caught the attention of bloggers. Bohrman told the New York Times that CNN would be pitching out any Democratic "gotcha" questions, using gay marriage and abortion as examples. TechPresident's Josh Levy asked his readers why Republicans couldn't answer questions about gay marriage. "Wait, I'm confused. I thought gay marriage and abortion were also Republican issues?" he wrote. Marty Kaplan, blogging on the Huffington Post's website, also railed against CNN's editorial control, saying the decision to strip the debate of "heartfelt inquiries about gayness in America" was disrespectful to members of Log Cabin, an organization for gay Republicans, as well as other gay Republicans. Ruffini pointed out that CNN couldn't be too biased in its selection process because all the questions submitted are posted online. This layer of transparency could allow someone to go through and examine whether the network's selections were too partial after the debate.
4. Democratic Candidates' Queries
Among the 5,000 submissions, two individuals are unique participants. Two Democrats running for president, Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, have questions among the mix. Dodd, with his campaign sign in the backdrop, introduces himself as a resident of Haddam, Conn., though he admits that he and his family are "spending a little bit of time in Iowa these days." He asks the GOP contenders if they feel citizens have to give up their constitutional rights to make the country safer. Kucinich, in his video posted by a supporter, asks if any of the Republican candidates would consider a piece of legislation advocating the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. The idea of Democratic candidates being part of the debate was so "brilliant," according to one fan, that a Facebook group attracting 80-some members was created in order to support the asking of Dodd's question.
5. Ron Paul Supporters' Questions
It's pretty difficult to talk about the Internet and the presidential election without making some reference to GOP hopeful and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, the onetime darkest of dark-horse candidates who has now made a prominent name for himself thanks to his avid supporters and the World Wide Web. Of the Republican candidates, Paul by far has had the most support online, and many of the video submissions are directed toward learning more about his unique policies. However, Paul might not necessarily be the best-performing candidate of the debate. Ruffini speculated that the format might play to the strengths of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who became accustomed to answering impromptu questions from reporters while holding press conferences in the Big Apple.