Obama to turn down additional fall debates
By: Mike Allen
Inundated by dozens of invitations, Sen. Barack Obama will turn down requests to join future debates and forums this fall, his Democratic presidential campaign announced Saturday.
Obama will honor his commitment to eight more debates (five sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, one by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and two in Iowa), but he does not plan to accept many invitations for forums, where the candidates appear sequentially.
Campaign sources confirmed that the announcement could affect such key Democratic constituencies as the Congressional Black Caucus, Iowa AARP and League of Conservation Voters, which are planning to sponsor forums in the fall.
(UPDATE: The League of Conservation Voters, citing Obama's own words on energy being "an urgent moral challenge," says it would be disappointed if Obama did not come to their forum.)
“Unfortunately, we simply cannot run the kind of campaign we want and need to, engaging with voters in the early states and February 5, if our schedule is dictated by dozens of forums and debates,” campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement.
“Ultimately, the one group left out of the current schedule is the voters, and they are the ones who ask the toughest questions and most deserve to have those questions answered face to face.
“We simply cannot continue to hopscotch from forum to forum and run a campaign true to the bottom-up movement for change that propelled Barack into this race.”
Although the Illinois senator has lagged behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in national polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, his record-breaking crowds and fundraising underscore his status as the most exciting candidate in the race. His participation or absence can make or break an event.
The Clinton campaign declined to comment, as did the campaign of former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.).
Critics and opponents can be expected to charge that Obama is dodging debates, because he has made several statements that Clinton and others have painted as reflecting ill-preparedness.
His assertion at the YouTube/CNN debate that he would be willing to meet with the leaders of hostile nations sparked a weeklong round of accusations, spin and counterspin.
On the other side of the equation, the campaigns of some of Obama's opponents have complained that too many candidates are participating in debates and forums to make the appearances satisfying or worthwhile. In July, a microphone picked up Clinton and Edwards conferring about whether their campaigns should discuss smaller debates. "Our guys should talk," Clinton was heard saying.
Obama campaign sources said no decision has been made about an invitation by Caroline Kennedy for a nationally televised presidential debate at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Dec. 17, with CNN as the television partner and Politico.com as the Internet partner. That is beyond the Dec. 10 period covered by the first round of DNC-sanctioned events, so it is not covered by Obama’s statement, the sources said.
Here is Plouffe’s whole statement, posted on Obama’s campaign website.
"As we head into the fall, the campaign is entering a new more engaged phase that will give voters an even greater sense of Barack's message of change and require the campaign to make decisions that balance the important role of debates and maximize time to run the kind of campaign we need to.
We have just been thru a period of three debates/forums in six days and the outlook for the future holds more of the same. And, because of likely calendar movement, once we get past Labor Day the Iowa caucuses are less than 120 days away.
"So far, Barack has attended seven Democratic debates and nineteen candidate forums. There are five remaining sanctioned DNC debates, which we are committed to attend and two Iowa debates normally held in January, which are being held in December, which we are also committed to attend. We will also be attending the Univision debate in Florida on September 9. This means that by the end of this year, Obama will have participated in a total of 15 Democratic debates.
"The debates have been important moments for our campaign, demonstrating clearly that Barack Obama is the candidate who will bring about the greatest change to our broken politics. Looking at the first sanctioned DNC debate in South Carolina, Obama was scored the clear winner by undecided voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire.
"Unfortunately, we simply cannot run the kind of campaign we want and need to, engaging with voters in the early states and February 5 states, if our schedule is dictated by dozens of forums and debates. Ultimately, the one group left out of the current schedule is the voters and they are the ones who ask the toughest questions and most deserve to have those questions answered face to face.
"Therefore, after this week, we will only be attending the five DNC debates through the sanctioning period of December 10, Univision, and the two Iowa debates previously mentioned. Candidate forums - where candidates appear sequentially will be considered, but we are unlikely to accept many of these. Instead, Barack will spend his time answering questions directly from voters in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and elsewhere. We simply cannot continue to hopscotch from forum to forum and run a campaign true to the bottom up movement for change that propelled Barack into this race.
"After the sanctioning period, there will undoubtedly be a large number of debates scheduled in the early states and in February 5 states. We will make decisions on those as we get closer, but will clearly be doing a healthy number of debates after the sanctioning period.
"Many friends and terrific organizations are sponsoring or planning to sponsor debates and forums. So this is not an easy decision for us to execute. But it simply won't work to navigate this one by one. We felt we needed to make our approach clear and consistent.
"I think this approach will be better for the voters and the campaign."
Sunday, August 19, 2007