Candidates worry there are just too many
For the Democrats, it's four down and potentially nine debates to go; for the Republicans, it's three debates down and eight more currently on the schedule. And that's just for starters.
The proliferation of presidential debates is the talk of the major candidates and their advisers. Many complain that the encounters are becoming trivialized rituals, featuring too many minor candidates, lots of ego, and little of value. The critics say that debate preparation drains time and energy, that the large number of participantseight at the last Democratic debate July 23 in Charleston, S.C.diverts attention from the three or four who have a realistic chance, and that the formats limit the candidates to superficial sound bites. All this was underscored when Sen. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were captured on an open microphone recently discussing their dissatisfaction with the number of participants. The underdogs, naturally, have a different view. Ohio Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich argues that "candidates, no matter how important they perceive themselves to be ... should not have the power to determine who is allowed to speak to the American public and who is not."
Pressure. The political parties approved only a handful of debates. But pressure from news media and other sponsoring organizations made the candidates agree to far more of the encounters, and still more are under consideration. And that doesn't include the dozens of "forums" the candidates are being invited to by every conceivable interest group under the sun.
Why is it so hard to refuse? Strategists for two prominent candidates say none of the major campaigns want to stiff the sponsors, especially news organizations that provide coverage. And no one wants to be called an elitist.
So the free-for-all continues, with another GOP debate set for August 5 in Des Moines and a Democratic debate August 9 in Los Angeles.
This story appears in the August 6, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.