An email sent Tuesday from the group’s founder listed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) as confirmed participants and asked supporters to thank “the presidential candidates who have showed the courage to participate in the first-ever Tea Party Presidential Debate.”
But at least one of those candidates doesn’t know anything about the event.
“I’m not entirely sure what you’re referring to,” Alex Conant, spokesman for Pawlenty, told Roll Call when asked about the debate. “We are not confirmed to participate in the TheTeaParty.net debate.”
Representatives for Bachmann, Cain and Santorum confirmed that their campaigns are on board.
The 90-minute debate, which will begin at 3 p.m., will be conducted entirely via Twitter using the handle @140townhall. The public may submit questions, and the candidates may use as many 140-character tweets as they want to respond. They will also be able to post three-minute videos with opening and closing statements.
Dustin Stockton, a spokesman for TheTeaParty.net, said the organization came up with the idea about three months ago, several months after another tea party group, the Tea Party Express, announced it would co-host a traditional televised debate with CNN in September.
The candidates will respond to the questions simultaneously, eliminating the advantage typically enjoyed by first respondents in traditional debates, Stockton added.
TheTeaParty.net quietly acts as an online meeting place and resource for hundreds of other tea party groups. The group hasn’t left much of a trail since it was founded last spring, organizing few, if any, events. Federal records show it raised almost $500,000 in the months leading up to the 2010 midterm elections but made no donations to candidates.
Despite questions about the group’s legitimacy raised within the tea party community, a Bachmann spokeswoman said the Twitter debate is an opportunity to reach new voters.
“She was looking forward to participating because it’s an audience that might not typically follow presidential politics,” spokeswoman Alice Stewart said. “This might provide another avenue to reach them.”