His schedule may keep him from the YouTube event in St. Petersburg on Sept. 17.
Published July 27, 2007|Updated July 31, 2007

Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani may have better things to do than answer YouTube users' questions at the GOP debate in St. Petersburg.

The news broke late Thursday that the former New York City mayor has scheduling issues with the Sept. 17 date, jeopardizing the showdown at the Mahaffey Theater.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also is frowning on the plan.

"I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman," Romney told the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader this week.

The announcement comes just a week after the debate's location was announced, and just days after Democratic presidential candidates fielded questions from citizens who made YouTube videos, including one of a snowman worried about global warming.

Elected officials touted the choice of St. Petersburg as a sign of Florida's increasing clout in the 2008 presidential contest, especially since the Legislature moved the primary to Jan. 29.

Giuliani campaign officials could not be reached late Thursday to elaborate on the specific scheduling conflicts.

Erin VanSickle, state GOP spokeswoman, said news of Giuliani's scheduling issues shouldn't become a problem.

"We look forward to working with all of the Republican presidential campaigns to make sure that this debate is as successful, compelling, and informative for Florida voters as possible," VanSickle wrote in an e-mail. "The innovative format is empowering and it offers viewers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to have their question answered by the next president of the United States."

Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer announced the debate a week ago.

"This is a testament to the leadership of the Florida Legislature, which wisely made Florida a more important player in the presidential nominating process by moving Florida's primary date forward, " Crist said at the time.

Co-hosted by CNN and YouTube and moderated by anchor Anderson Cooper, the debate will be the first time St. Petersburg has hosted a faceoff of this magnitude since the vice presidential debate between Al Gore and Jack Kemp at the Mahaffey in 1996.

Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report.