Aug 1, 2015 2:12 PM
NH1 Political Director - NH1.com
GOFFSTOWN – Monday 14 of the 17 Republican presidential candidates will converge on Saint Anselm College for the Voters First Forum.
Moderator Jack Heath tells NH1 News that the forum “is a very big deal. It came together very quickly.”
And he’s not kidding.
The event was announced just a couple of weeks ago by New Hampshire Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid. The idea for the forum came in response to the move by Fox News, host of the first GOP presidential primary debate, to limit their showdown to just ten candidates.
That’s means seven declared candidates won’t make the stage at the primetime debate next Thursday, August 6, in Cleveland (host city for next year’s Republican convention). Fox News is using an average of national polling to determine who makes the stage, rather than surveys from the early voting states.
“The idea that Fox was going to winnow the field down before the primary voters got a chance to vote six or seven months from now rubbed me the wrong way, so that’s why we’re doing ours,” McQuaid told NH1 News.
“I thought their idea of limiting based on national polls in August to just ten candidates is just crazy,” added McQuaid, who spearheaded the forum.
All 14 candidates will sit in the front row of the Dana Center, on the Saint Anselm campus. They’ll be brought up one at a time to answer questions from Heath, the moderator. Heath expects two rounds of questioning for each candidate.
“We’re trying to get as much substance in from the voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Iowa who’ve submitted topics for questions,” said Heath, host of the popular morning radio talk show “New Hampshire Today.”
The Union Leader teamed up with TV stations in Iowa and South Carolina, two other early voting states, to put together the forum. The event will be seen live in New Hampshire on NH1 News on WBIN-TV and will be carried live nationally by CSPAN.
"I think what’s unusual is we’re seeing South Carolina and Iowa and New Hampshire come together to kind of say to the national pundits and pollsters ‘in the early states it’s not about you the national media, you the national pollsters. It’s about the voters,” added Heath.
The only Republican candidates not attending are current frontrunner Donald Trump, who passed on an invitation, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who as only made one trip this year to the first-in-the-nation primary state, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who’s campaign launch on Thursday came too late to be included in the event.
The forum does not break the rules laid out by the Republican National Committee, which is trying to impose order this cycle in what’s been a very disorderly debate process the past couple of election cycles.
“I’m actually excited to hear that the Union Leader is doing this. I hope this is the first of many of these kinds of events in the early primary and caucus states,” said Steve Duprey, one of New Hampshire’s two committee members on the RNC.
“We never intended that the debates be the exclusive way for people to get to know candidates. In fact, I think there’s a strong argument that these forums will fulfill a more useful role than a ten candidate on the stage format where the candidates are selected by national polls,” added Duprey, chairman of the RNC’s committee on debates.
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