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Republican Campaigns Seek More Active Debate Planning Role

  • Reuters

From left, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Rand Paul take the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., Oct. 28, 2015.

From left, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Rand Paul take the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., Oct. 28, 2015.

Representatives from Republican presidential campaigns on Sunday demanded a more active role in negotiations with TV networks over how presidential debates are conducted and sought a more limited role for the Republican National Committee.

Officials from 11 campaigns for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination met for two hours behind closed doors at a hotel in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss the way forward just days after a heavily criticized debate hosted by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado.

"The campaigns are going to take a more active role in discussing the format with the networks," said a senior official from one campaign who attended the meeting. "They're going to expect to have a more direct engagement with the networks."

The negotiating role for the three debates held so far has been held by the Republican National Committee. The official said the campaigns want to limit the RNC role to handling logistics like the distribution of tickets and arranging backstage holding rooms for the candidates at the event sites.

Campaigns were angered at the RNC for its handling of the CNBC debate because the event was advertised to be a two-hour discussion of economic issues but veered wildly from that theme and the moderators struggled to maintain control.

The format for the next debate on Nov. 10 in Milwaukee to be hosted by Fox Business Network was left alone for the most part.

The other five debates going forward could see some changes, the official said.

The RNC, aware of a rebellion brewing among the campaigns, had sought to defuse the situation. The RNC dumped NBC News, a partner of CNBC, from hosting a Feb. 26 debate in Houston on Friday and on Sunday, it announced it had appointed its chief operating officer, Sean Cairncross, to help negotiate debate terms with the networks.

But that wasn't enough. The campaigns said at the meeting that they needed a better understanding up front of what the host network's telecasts would include because, as another campaign official said, there has been a bad flow of information between the networks and the RNC to date on what the candidates should expect.

During the Alexandria discussions, this official said, the campaign representative for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush sought to reinstate Spanish-language network Telemundo to the Feb. 26 debate. Telemundo and National Review are co-sponsors of that debate.

But the campaign of Donald Trump refused to go along with this demand, the official said. Trump has campaigned on a platform of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to stem illegal immigrants.

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