Top officials from past presidential campaigns have quietly formed a group to push for major changes in the general election debates, with recommendations expected by late spring. The working group is questioning the debates’ format, moderator-selection process and location: Might a TV studio make more sense than a college town? Members said a major goal is to make more allowance for changing technology and the rise of social media. A likely recommendation is an earlier start for the debates, in response to the increase in absentee voting. Members include the longtime lead debate negotiator for each party: Bob Bauer for Democratic nominees and Ben Ginsberg for the Republicans. So the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential General Election Debates could have a profound effect on the signature fall events of the race for the White House. The group’s co-chairs were top debate-prep advisers to each of the 2012 nominees: Anita Dunn for President Obama, and Beth Myers for Mitt Romney.
The group is sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, debate expert and the center’s director, leads the study.
Myers said the group had its genesis in a conversation she had with Dunn at a post-election forum held by Jamieson: “We were chatting about: Are we doing the moderators correctly? Is the timing right? Is the format right? What is the involvement of new media? Are they even being held in the right place? We were all sort of unhappy to be in Hempstead, N.Y., in October.” Jamieson said: “We’re not saying something is broken and we’re trying to fix it. We’re saying there’s an enormous potential here for voter learning and asking if there’s a way to increase the number of people who benefit from that.”