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Politics

YouTube debate gets full GOP slate

Romney and Thompson sign on for Nov. 28 in St. Petersburg.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 27, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - Bring on the snowman.

Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson agreed Friday to join the other major Republican presidential contenders at next month's CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, their campaigns said.

Romney and Thompson are the last candidates to commit to the Nov. 28 debate at the Mahaffey Theater downtown. Their announcements came within hours of each other Friday afternoon, after a St. Petersburg Times reporter asked why they had not yet said whether they would show up.

Romney previously had criticized the format, where questions can come from anyone - even as in the case of the Democratic YouTube debate a snowman. But Friday, a Romney spokesperson said the former Massachusetts governor was eager to attend.

"Gov. Romney is looking forward to traveling to St. Petersburg for the debate and looking forward to discussing issues important to voters in Florida and across the country," Kristy Campbell said.

About 90 minutes later, the Thompson campaign said its candidate was coming too.

"This is a unique platform to discuss the ideas and issues facing America and Sen. Thompson is excited to be participating," said Jeff Sadosky, a Thompson spokesman.

Publicly, organizers CNN, YouTube and the Republican Party of Florida said they never thought Romney and Thompson would skip the St. Petersburg debate.

But privately, they were wondering what was taking the candidates so long to RSVP.

CNN political director Sam Feist said he's excited to have everyone on board.

"We're thrilled that all eight candidates have committed to participating in this one-of-a-kind Republican debate," Feist said.

The two-hour event, which will be moderated by Anderson Cooper, has been criticized by some Republicans and Romney in particular, who argue that answering questions from a caricature or cartoon belittles the process.

Some conservatives also have feared that YouTube users will use the format to attack Republicans.

But the sentiment spawned a backlash from some conservative bloggers, who said failing to embrace the format could alienate support on the Internet. For his part, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has called the event the "people's debate."

Anyone can submit a question for the candidates through the Web site, www.youtube.com. The Times is helping residents film their questions from 10 a.m. to noon today at the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading on the campus of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

So far, more than 2,100 questions have been submitted. CNN will ultimately choose the 50 or so that candidates will answer.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Fast facts

Got a question?

The CNN/YouTube presidential debate is coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Nov. 28 and Tampabay.com wants to make sure your voice is heard. Let us film your question for the Republican candidates and we will take care of the rest. Your question might be chosen to be answered on live television. Here are the upcoming sessions for filming:

Today:10 a.m. -12 p.m., St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading on the USF St. Petersburg campus. Go to the Times tent to the left of the Second Avenue entrance

Thursday:6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., YMCA, 3200 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg

Nov. 7: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., University of Tampa, student commons

Nov. 17 and 24: 3 to 5 p.m., Times booth at BayWalk

Or, if you want to film and submit a question yourself, go to www.youtube.com/debates for instructions.

[Last modified October 26, 2007, 23:56:52]


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