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State readies for YouTube II
Florida, and St. Petersburg, will be in the limelight during the GOP presidential debate.
By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published July 25, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG -- Whether or not the YouTube model of presidential debates proves a lasting success, one thing is certain:
Florida likely will be a focus of attention when the Republican candidates come to St. Petersburg this fall.
Just as Monday's debate in South Carolina raised issues related to that region, some questions during the Sept. 17 debate will have a distinct Florida flavor, organizers said.
It's still too early to say what they might be, said Sam Feist, CNN's political director, but don't be surprised to hear questions about hurricanes, Cuba or coastal construction during the debate at the Mahaffey Theater.
It's just one of the perks that comes with landing a first-of-its-kind debate in the middle of an open presidential contest.
"We want to make sure we will tackle issues that are important to Florida Republican voters," Feist said Tuesday, after returning to Washington, D.C.
Talk of the South Carolina debate continued on cable news networks Tuesday as Florida officials began to prepare for a debate of their own.
The state Republican Party, which will co-host the debate, sent four people to Charleston, S.C., on Monday to see how the event unfolded at the Citadel.
And St. Petersburg officials planned to speak with their counterparts at the military college to understand how the event transpired.
With the unknowns now getting out of the way, Florida can get down to hosting a presidential primary debate.
"It's a great concept," Mayor Rick Baker said. "People feel part of the election. It really bridges the generations, too."
Many details of Florida's debate still need to be worked out, but CNN officials said they don't expect the overall script to deviate much. Like in South Carolina, members of the video-sharing Web site YouTube will pose questions to candidates.
Gov. Charlie Crist, who did not watch last night's debate, understands that it created a buzz. The governor recently taped a promo for CNN announcing the Sept. 17 event in his hometown.
"It was the people's debate," Crist said of the South Carolina debate, which gave voters, not journalists, a chance to ask the questions.
The YouTubeification of presidential politics came Monday in the form of a snowman talking about global warming and struggling families talking about health care.
The dichotomy interspersed levity and reality during the two-hour debate.
"We weren't quite sure what to expect," said Erin VanSickle, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Party who returned from Charleston on Tuesday. "It's such a new element that provides unique challenges."
State Republicans launched their own YouTube channel over the weekend with video from Crist's inaugural and State of the State address. VanSickle said the party will continue to add video to the site.
The group also is directing people to submit debate questions from its Web site, www.rpof.org. Questions can also come through YouTube -250 already have been submitted in less than 24 hours.
City officials said that, despite the debate's popularity, the event will likely not become a strain on local resources.
Beth Herendeen, overseeing debate planning for St. Petersburg, said it will equate to a large Broadway production.
The biggest payoff might be the exposure the city gets through the 400 journalists likely to be in town during the weekend before the Monday night debate, Baker said.
Feist, the CNN political director who declared the quick-hitting, hip format here to stay, said the Florida debate will only generate more interest.
"The folks in Florida ought to be thrilled," he said.
Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2273.