CNN to broadcast from Tampa Bay area today and this weekend before Monday debate
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says there is one, overriding reason why he’ll be anchoring his signature show, The Situation Room, from the Florida State Fairgrounds at 5 p.m. today.
Because on Monday, Blitzer will quiz the top eight Republican presidential candidates at the fairgrounds for CNN’s first debate partnership with the conservative Tea Party Express wing of the GOP. And, easy as he may make it seem, juggling questions asked by party members in the room and at distant locations, questions delivered by social media and his own queries, the truth is – coordinating all that takes some rehearsal.
“We’re going to spend all day (today) and Saturday preparing,” said Blitzer, who hosted five debates during the 2008 presidential campaign for both parties. “It’s a lot of work – a lot of research into these candidates’ positions – and we want to be fully prepared for everything.”
Blitzer – who will fly to Washington D.C. Sunday and anchor part of CNN’s 9/11 anniversary coverage before returning to Tampa Monday -- won’t be alone in helming shows from the Sunshine State.
Anchor Don Lemon will host evening shows Saturday and Sunday from the fairgrounds, while Ali Velshi leads American Morning broadcasts Monday and Tuesday and John King hosts his John King USA program at 7 p.m., just before the debate’s 8 p.m. start.
“We tried to identify which states the tea party had a significant impact, and Florida emerged as a really good example,” said Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington Bureau Chief, who also noted Florida’s importance during the primary and general elections. “The Tea Party was really influential in Gov. Rick Scott’s election and there are quite a number of Tea Party members who are active. Put that all together, and Tampa feels like the right spot.”
Some critics have groused that media outlets such as CNN have helped give the Tea Party the clout it now enjoys – treating the group as a separate party, despite its status as a conservative wing inside the Republican Party.
But Blitzer compared the debate partnership to a previous CNN debate with the Congressional Black Caucus years ago. “The important thing is, are we going to help them better define who these candidates are?” he said, predicting lots of discussion on jobs, Social Security and health care. “everybody will emerge from this debate a little bit smarter…and if we do that, I don’t have a problem teaming up (with the Tea Party).”
The debate will feature questions from the audience, which is to include members from Tea Party groups in 31 states. Blitzer will also take questions from debate watch parties in Phoenix, Ariz., Cincinnati, Ohio and Portsmouth, Va., soliciting questions on CNNPolitics.com, the CNN Politics Facebook page and the Twitter hashtag #CNNTeaParty.
The candidates include: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Ginrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. And while candidates such as Buddy Roehmer have complained of exclusion from televised debates, Feist said CNN limited participation to candidates who scored more than 2 percent support in national polls by a certain date.
And, of course there’s still hope CNN might get a ratings windfall: perpetual non-candidate and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin finally deciding to enter the race just before Monday’s debate.
“Well, Michele Bachman announced her candidacy onstage at the last CNN debate in New Hampshire, so you never know,” Feist said, laughing. “the on thing you can count on from Sarah Palin is for her to surprise you.”