CD-2 Candidates Get Virtual in Online Debate Tonight

Coming on the heels of the president’s State of the Union speech Monday night, the intersection of political rhetoric and reality becomes even more acute as the 2008 campaign season heats up.

Nowhere is the heat and light more evident than the contentious 2nd congressional district race to succeed Rep. Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs) who is running for U.S. Senate.

Boulder-based blogger DavidThi808 decided to take matters into his own hands by hosting a one-hour online debate between the three democratic primary candidates this evening at 7 p.m. MST.

Colorado Confidential talked to Dave about this first in the state — and possibly first in the nation — virtual congressional campaign debate.What inspired you to organize and host an online debate?

The original online debate was for the Boulder City Council when there were 22 candidates. I was trying to think of a way to run a debate when giving each candidate two minutes/questions meant two questions/hour. I came up with the online debate to solve that problem. But in discussing it with others, we started to realize that there are some big advantages in this format. So that led to now trying it for the CD-2 primary where it is being because of the unique advantages of this format.

What do you hope to accomplish?

I hope to accomplish three major things with this format:

1. The time constraints force a fast from the gut answer so this is a more accurate picture of the candidate’s approach to the job than the position papers they post which have been reviewed by numerous people.
2. Looks, presentation, facial expressions, etc. — those things in a live debate actually count for more than the actual words spoken. In this debate all that people “see” is what they write. So it distills the discussion down to way they say (or write actually).
3. A couple of the questions are ones I have come up with and I try to bring out the type of representative we would get as opposed to asking questions on specific policy issues. This delivers useful information to help us decide to vote for – and it’s information that is not available elsewhere.

You mentioned that the technology for the debate was fairly easy to develop, can you explain how others might be able to do this?

I’m just running this through my blog and the questions are sent to the candidates via email and they reply to me via email. So anyone can do this. No need to get fancy. With that said, if this becomes popular I will write an open source program to more fully automate it.

Are you personally supporting one of the CD-2 candidates?

I have not decided which of the three I am going to vote for. I do tend to lean toward a given one on any given day, but it keeps changing. However, if I did support one, I would not say anything until this debate is over.

Did you have any trouble garnering the cooperation of the candidates? If so, how did you overcome it?

All three candidates agreed to do it when first asked. They were all very gracious and professional both on accepting and on agreeing on when to have it.

Are you planning to host online debates for any other campaigns (congressional or local)?

I hope to do this for the Senate race here in Colorado and for any races in this area that are competitive. But I think we need to show it is useful, effective, and fair in the upcoming debate before asking others. I also hope to do it again for the CD-2 candidates just before the primary.

1. I also asked the Democratic presidential candidates if they would do this but only received a standard request for more details from one and nothing from the others. With that said, Hillary, Barack, John – if you read this – I would love to do one between the three of you.
2. I am also happy to answer questions or assist for anyone who wants to do this elsewhere.

Will those future debates be limited to Dem candidates only? Would you consider GOP primaries? Or general election campaigns?

I do hope to do them for the US Senate general election. I had several people suggest I do this for the CD-5 and CD-6 primaries but I don’t know the areas well and I don’t know the issues that drive the Republican base so I don’t think I would do a good job.

Leading up to the actual debate, what’s the one thing that surprised you most about coordinating this event?

The most surprising thing was how easy it was to set up. The Boulder City Council election was the opposite with a million questions, complaints, requirements, etc.

How large an audience are you projecting will participate?

Audience size is an “it depends” question. For the Boulder City Council election (which generated less interest) had about 2,000 visitors the night of the debate. But the S/M/T of the days before and the day the ballots were due those debate pages also had about that many visitors/day. And about 700/day for the two weeks in between. This is a much larger election and interests more people, but with Will deciding to go the petition route, most people figure the caucus election becomes a lot less interesting as Joan and Jared should both easily get the votes they need. So I’m hopeful it will get 5,000 visitors Tuesday night – but that’s just a wild ass guess.

To submit a question for the candidates, click here.