Crowded Debates Cause Political Chaos Both parties are fielding a large number of presidential candidates in the early days of the 2008 campaign. What does this mean for the TV debates? For the moment, confusion and chaos.
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Crowded Debates Cause Political Chaos

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Crowded Debates Cause Political Chaos

Crowded Debates Cause Political Chaos

Crowded Debates Cause Political Chaos

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Both parties are fielding a large number of presidential candidates in the early days of the 2008 campaign. What does this mean for the TV debates? For the moment, confusion and chaos.

JOHN YDSTIE, Host:

Here to discuss is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hello, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hello, John.

YDSTIE: Is it necessary to have so many candidates?

LIASSON: But on the other hand, there is an argument to be made for having everyone on stage at this point. And if there's any time that you should give an opportunity for a Mike Huckabee or a Jim Gilmore or even a Bill Richardson on the Democratic side to break out of the second tier, this certainly is it.

YDSTIE: How do the people who manage and sponsor these debates going to winnow them down? Do they simply decide that if you get less than 10 percent of the polls you're out or something like that?

LIASSON: That's definitely how they do it. You know, there are other criteria. I mean, for instance, suppose you can cough up whatever it is - $25,000 in a certain state - they could use that, but the most traditional criteria is standing in the polls.

YDSTIE: What did the South Carolina debate between the Republicans tell us about the dynamic of that race right now?

LIASSON: Well, one interesting thing it told us is that candidates don't seem to be ganging up on the frontrunner. The frontrunner in the polls right now is Rudy Giuliani and usually he is the one who has a big target on his back, but that's not happening. Instead, you saw Mitt Romney going after John McCain sparking this exchange.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

MITT ROMNEY: My fear is that McCain-Kennedy would do the immigration what McCain-Feingold has done to campaign finance and money in politics, and that's bad.

JOHN MCCAIN: I've kept a consistent position on campaign finance reform. I have kept a consistent position on right to life. And I haven't changed my position on even-numbered years or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for.

YDSTIE: That was Mitt Romney, followed by John McCain at the Republican debate this past week in Columbia, South Carolina.

LIASSON: We have a tremendous number of debates coming up. The DNC just sanctioned one month, plus, two in June, and the Republicans are going to have plenty more too. They're going to all be going to New Hampshire on June 5th so there's lots of time to see these candidates. By the time most voters start paying attention to this race, which I think will be in the fall, the stages will be holding many fewer candidates.

YDSTIE: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, John.

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