Opportunities for CNN and Candidates in the First Democratic Party Debate

Five candidates are preparing for the CNN debate to be held in Las Vegas on 13 October 2015: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but also Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee. There are two likely outcomes.

The first is an opportunity to actually debate the issues. The previous Fox and CNN debates failed to engage the candidates in a genuine debate of the issues, perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of candidates on stage. On Tuesday, with five candidates, there will be no excuse for not asking the candidates to debate key issues, yet that remains to be seen. [Tracy Westen and I have been writing about this shortcoming of the GOP debates.]

Secondly, I expect that this is a key opportunity for the lesser known candidates to gain greater visibility. Martin O’Malley, for example, could gain support for his candidacy by virtue of just being heard. Even though there are fewer candidates in the Democratic Party Primary, it is amazing how focused the media have been on the two frontrunners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Even Joe Biden, yet to decide on his candidacy, has received tremendous coverage. The other three candidates have received very little indeed. For example, the Sunday NYT (11 October 2015) prepares readers for the coming debate by discussing the debating skills of Bernie and Hillary, but not one column inch on O’Malley, Webb, or Chafee. This is one more illustration of the limitations of the mass media in elections. More use needs to be made of the Internet, Web and social media to cover a wider range of issues and candidates.


It might well be that the three lesser knowns will have the most to win in this CNN debate, as this stage will give them the best opportunity to-date to make their case as credible alternatives to the two front-runners. My prediction is that Martin O’Malley will be the biggest winner of Tuesday’s CNN debate, but the most important outcome should be the airing of candidate positions on key issues. This is the responsibility of the moderators at CNN.

Coders For Sanders: Wonderful Focus on the Issues

Nick Corasaniti has written a great piece in The New York Times on how the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders is attracting tech-savvy volunteers, like Daniela Perdomo. She has helped create FeeltheBern.org.

For me, the most exciting aspect of the article is the front landing page of FeeltheBern.org – which provides a set of issues for users to click in order to see where Bernie Sanders stands on such issues as ‘civil rights’, ‘government regulation’, and a host of other controversies. My colleague and I have written about the first G.O.P. debate and about how and why the debate lacked a focus on the issues. Sites like FeeltheBern are a major step towards correcting that. The very fact that Bernie Sanders makes it easy for people to understand his views on what the issues are, and where he stands, speaks volumes for his credibility and promise as a candidate.

Now we need some tech-savvy volunteers to create sites that enable voters to compare the candidates on the issues of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Tracy Westen and I tried to sketch out some aspects of such a new approach to Presidential debates.

See: ‘Sanders Attacts Tech-Savvy Talent That Would Cost Anybody Else’: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/us/politics/bernie-sanders-presidential-campaign-tech-supporters.html?_r=0

Also Westen and Dutton: http://billdutton.me/2015/08/12/multimedia-convergence-a-new-approach-to-presidential-debates-by-tracy-westen-and-bill-dutton/