Last week, Denver Post reporter John Frank wrote that 9News’ “announcement of the first televised debate in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate is sure to create controversy: With more than a dozen candidates in the race, who will make the debate stage?”
9News stated it will include any “viable” candidate in its April 5 debate, as determined by a 5-member panel of political analysts.
“The panel may also draw scrutiny,” Frank suggested, “as the members represent establishment politics in a field with a number of outsider candidates.”
Frank swiftly outlined how each member of the panel is connected with establishment politics.
Along these lines, one detail I stumbled on is that fact that one panel member, Kelly Mahar, has close ties to former Rep. Jon Keyser, having joined with him to form “iGOP,” a “slate of young, tech savvy Republicans” who ran for Republican National Convention (RNC) delegate slots in 2012. Mahar is also a 9News commentator.
In any event, I asked Rittiman to respond to the criticism that in deciding between a grassroots and a more establishment GOP candidate, 9News’ establishment-oriented panel might be biased toward the establishment candidate. He said:
Rittiman: “We selected people [for the panel] who know what it takes to mount a successful Senate campaign and see if a candidate has anything to show besides filing an FEC form. We want people on stage who have a shot of gaining access to the primary ballot, which takes some level of organized support by this point in the process.
By now, when we’re this close to the state convention, the candidates should be able to point to something. Grassroots support is great. Show us the grassroots support you have. That’s fair game.
Just because we have some folks who have been closer to politics and know what it takes to run a campaign involved in the selection process doesn’t mean that those people wouldn’t take it very seriously if any of the candidates were to show us some metric or measure of grassroots support. We can all recognize that when we see it.
I’d again stress that we will allow any ballot-qualified candidates who haven’t dropped out to participate in our June 7 primary debate—and that we are allowing all candidates to submit up to two minutes of video to be published on 9NEWS.com and mentioned during the debate.
Yesterday, 9News announced that the panel chose eight candidates to participate in the debate. Wouldn’t voters want all of them to go at each other?
Ideally yes, but there are limits. What would all those Republican presidential candidates have looked like on the same stage, with no B-Team debate to siphon some of them off? Pretty bad. A over-crowded debate doesn’t serve the public interest. Colorado faces a similar situation.
So 9News did the right thing to limit the number of candidates, and a “viability” standard, in the absence of polling, makes sense.
You can argue that television station should have put some non-establisment folks on the selection panel — like former Rep. Tom Tancredo, former GOP Chair and KLZ talk-show host Steve Curtis, or Tea Party leader and lawyer Randy Corporon. Some people like that, with political experience.
But I don’t think it mattered. Judging from the candidates selected (see below) yesterday, 9News struck a balance between the voters’ need to hear from 1) candidates who have a demonstrable hope of winning and 2) from the underdog candidates who deserve to be heard. It’s a tough call when you have so many odd candidates vying against each other.
9News’ announcement yester of the debate lineup seemed to reflect a fair process:
“The lineup for the debate is not yet final. Campaigns who were not invited have been given a deadline of March 31 to provide any additional evidence of viability for the panel to consider.
The panel unanimously decided that the campaigns of Charlie Ehler, Jerry Eller, Michael Kinlaw, and Donald Rosier did not demonstrate a viable path to accessing the June primary ballot.
Ehler and Rosier did not provide materials for the panel to review by the Monday deadline.
Greg Lopez, who had announced a run, told 9NEWS he’s dropped out and is endorsing Natividad in the race.”