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Groups Make Case for Inclusion of Their Issues in Next Debate

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Immigration groups, campaign finance reformers and other advocacy organizations that say they got shorted in the first presidential debate are preparing a fresh push for airtime.

In the past several months, assorted interest groups have launched online petitions, spent millions of dollars on advertising and dispatched field teams to swing states in hopes of getting the next president to address their priorities.

Now, with two debates on domestic policy to come, the campaigns, moderators and the debate commission are facing an onslaught of appeals from groups who feel they were snubbed in the first go-round.

"We are going to pick up the phone, send emails and ask our member companies - at the highest level possible - to engage with the moderators and the presidential campaigns," said Tom Gavin, a spokesman for the Information Technology Industry Council, which wants the candidates to present their positions on visa reform and trade in the coming debates.

Gavin said one of his first calls will be to Mike McCurry, Democratic co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The group wasted no time Thursday morning declaring the debate "devoid of new ideas and bold approaches to create jobs," and it plans to send a list of suggested questions to Martha Raddatz of ABC News, who is moderating the vice presidential debate on Oct. 11, and CNN's Candy Crowley, who is hosting the second showdown between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama on Oct. 16. The Information Technology Industry Council sent a similar six-page letter to Jim Lehrer, Wednesday night's moderator.

"It's probably one of the most important questions in the political process: How do you get into the debates?" said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion political action committee Susan B. Anthony List.

The group unveiled a new super PAC earlier this week that immediately spent $500,000 in advertising in Ohio, Virginia and Florida. The PAC is considering bracketing the next two debates with the same ad.

When it comes to social issues, especially abortion, Dannenfelser said a public campaign with a grass-roots component is more effective than personal appeals.

"I think that we reach a more hostile audience among the questioners and the commission," she said. "They are generally disinclined to ask the question on that topic."

Other advocacy groups prefer to quietly work the back channels, concerned that a major public push could backfire.

"We think the best way to get that question placed is not necessarily by launching a public campaign," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. "It's like lobbying - one person, to the next person, to the next."

The group has submitted an op-ed to the Lexington Herald Leader that it hopes will run in advance of the vice presidential debate next week at Centre College in nearby Danville, Ky.

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