For a time on Friday, it looked as if the upcoming Republican presidential debate in Tampa might have a bit less impact than expected, amid news that top contender Mitt Romney hadn't agreed to appear and reports that the network had released the 9 p.m. timeslot to regular programming.
But the network announced today that the debate would take place as scheduled Monday, with Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul expected to attend the event, airing at 9 p.m. from the University of South Florida.
Gingrich, who has seen his standing in election polls rise amid strong debate performances, said Romney would be a "running joke" if he skipped Tampa's debate.
"Romney can't claim that he's prepared to debate Obama if he's not prepared to debate Newt Gingrich," Gingrich said in a quote featured on the Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog on Florida politics. "So I'm confident he'll be there Monday night."
Romney acknowledged as much this morning, according to POLITICO, followed by the press release below from NBC:
NBC NEWS STATEMENT ON REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
TAMPA, FL -- JANUARY 21, 2012 -- NBC News Senior Vice President of Specials Mark Lukasiewicz today issued the following statement regarding the status of Monday's presidential primary debate:
"All four qualifying Republican presidential candidates have confirmed their attendance for Monday's NBC News, National Journal, Tampa Bay Times debate. Florida has often been the stage for history in politics -- we look forward to hosting a substantive and stimulating forum for the candidates to make their case to the voters in this crucial state and the whole country."
The NBC News, National Journal, Tampa Bay Times Republican Candidates Debate, in association with the Florida Council of 100, will take place on Monday, January 23 at 9:00pm ET at the University of South Florida. The debate will be moderated by NBC's Brian Williams and will include a panel with National Journal's Beth Reinhard and the Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith.
This will be the first weekday primetime airing of a primary debate on a broadcast network in the 2012 election cycle. The event will air live on the NBC television network at 9pm ET / 8pm CT and on the west coast at 9pm PT, and will also stream live on nbcpolitics.com, nationaljournal.com, and tampabay.com. Telemundo will broadcast the debate in its entirety with simultaneous Spanish-language translation.