By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Nov. 28 -- Aboard the cramped and chaotic CNN production truck Wednesday, a dozen producers and aides, led by Washington bureau chief David Bohrman, raced to stream 40 YouTube videos live to the Mahaffey Theater.
The tone of the night was set by the first video aired, a stinging tune called the "GOP Debate Song," uploaded by Chris Nandor, a computer programmer from Snohomish County, Wash.
"The Grand Old Party is looking for somebody who can lead, someone who is electable and adheres to our creed. Some say the group is not diverse, they're white, they're men," sang Nandor, a Republican. "Rudy's leading all the polls, but can he win the base? Mitt changed on abortion; history he can't erase. . . . McCain is loved by many and hated by the rest."
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, among others, looked none too pleased.
The format for the debate, in which YouTube collects the videos but CNN's political team decides which ones are aired, has been the subject of constant criticism in the blogosphere.
And like the first such debate, featuring the Democrats in July, this forum was as much about the questioners as the candidates.
Inside their house in Atlanta, Prentiss Tate and his son asked about black-on-black crime. Jay Fox of Boulevard, Calif., standing outside and holding a shotgun, asked the candidates about their positions on gun control. Sitting in front of an American flag, Andre Jones of Seattle asked the candidates how they could disagree with challenger John McCain on waterboarding, given that the Arizona senator, who opposes the practice, was a prisoner of war.
Nearly 5,000 questions were uploaded, 2,000 more submissions than were received for the Democratic debate. Among the highlights was an offering from Nick Anderson, an editorial cartoonist who used an animated version of Vice President Cheney to ask the candidates whether they would grant their vice presidents as much power and influence as Cheney has.
"For a second there, I thought that was me," former senator Fred D. Thompson quipped about the depiction, drawing one of the night's biggest laughs.
Wednesday night's event almost didn't happen. In conversations with Bohrman, Republican candidates expressed concern about what questions CNN, dubbed the "Clinton News Network" by many conservatives, would select. Some had problems with the format. After the Democratic debate in July, when a talking snowman asked about global warming, Romney told New Hampshire's Manchester Union Leader newspaper: "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman."
Bohrman's political team made sure that didn't happen this time.
"Interesting questions, weren't they?" he asked, minutes after the debate. "This kind of participatory format is here to stay. Can you imagine going back?"