It was called the Countdown to Super Tuesday Project -- an effort designed to get the presidential candidates to pay more attention to the South. Backing the project were former governors Charles S. Robb of Virginia (D) and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (R), who announced at a news conference this summer that four debates would be held in the South before March 8, when 14 southern states -- and six elsewhere -- select delegates to the national conventions.
But it is not to be. The sponsor, the Southern Educational Communications Association, citing a lack of money, last week canceled two sets of debates scheduled for Jan. 23-24 and Feb. 20-21. The forums, which would have been broadcast live on public radio and television across the region, were to focus on issues of interest to the South.
"We are mightily disappointed that the limited funds available to public broadcasting make the debates impossible to deliver," said Virginia Fox, president of SECA, which represents public broadcasting in the South. The group needed almost $1 million to put on the debates, but had only $125,000 on hand.
Nevertheless, the South need not fear it will suffer from a shortage of debates. The Democratic Leadership Council, which has already held two debates for the Democrats in the South, will hold another Feb. 29 in Williamsburg. And The Dallas Morning News is sponsoring GOP and Democratic debates in Dallas in February and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is holding two sets of debates in Atlanta later in February.