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Orlando to host presidential debate in fall

By STEVE Bousquet
Published February 19, 2007


TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Republicans will not hold a straw poll of presidential candidates later this year, and instead will host a prime-time debate to be televised on the Fox network in October.

Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer announced the moves Monday following consultations with Gov. Charlie Crist and top party officials.

The two-day party convention, set for Oct. 20-21 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, is dubbed Presidency IV, and will also include a luncheon showcasing Crist and an afternoon forum with candidates, Greer said. It is the fourth such gathering of Florida Republicans.

The next big task for the Florida GOP: securing commitments from candidates to take part in the debate.
Flanked by seven top party officials, Greer said a debate will be more beneficial to Republican voters in Florida and nationally.

“It adds more credibility,” Greer said. “I think we all know a straw poll is who comes, who buys the most tickets and so on.”

Many candidates and strategists consider straw polls costly and time-consuming and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a candidate’s support.

But Greer said the decision to scrub a straw poll was not due to pressure from presidential candidates who oppose them.

“I haven’t had much discussion with the presidential candidates,” Greer said. “None of them has contacted me directly. I made this decision without consulting of what they wanted and what they didn’t want.”

Asked if he was pressured by Crist, Greer said: “I consulted with the governor, but I’m the chairman of the party.”

The party declined to comment on talk that candidates will be charged $100,000 to participate and delegates -- or “ambassadors” -- also may be charged an entry fee.

“We’re not releasing any cost estimates or fund-raising estimates at this point,” spokesman Jeff Sadosky said.

Republican National Committeewoman Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale endorsed the decision to deep-six a straw poll.

“There’s not many times that a grass roots activist will have a front-row seat at one of the first presidential debates,” Day said. “To have Florida highlighted on prime time on Fox News -- with Republicans, Fox News is our red meat.”

A spokesman for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he did not consider the scrubbing of a straw poll to be a setback to his efforts to build a grass roots organization in the state.

“It’s not a surprise that other candidates’ camps are very relieved they don’t have to face Governor Romney and his organization in a Florida straw poll,’’ spokesman Kevin Madden said.

“Regardless, we’re still pleased with the prospect of going head-to-head with the other candidates in the Florida primary contest.”

The state GOP and the Fox network are still negotiating a number of details, including who will serve as moderator, the length of the program and whether candidates must be present in Orlando or can participate by satellite from other cities.

Greer said the Republican Party’s media consultant in arranging the debate is Jay Burmer, a former official in the attorney general’s office under Crist.

The debate is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 21.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified February 19, 2007, 19:50:43]

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