CNN announced with great fanfare Thursday morning that it would host two GOP presidential debates in January. One at Drake University in Iowa on Jan. 10 and the other at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire on Jan. 21.
“The events will provide Republican voters an opportunity to hear the governing philosophies of the leading candidates seeking to challenge the likely Democratic presidential nominee, President Joe Biden, in November,” CNN said.
A few hours later, ABC News announced it was teaming up with local affiliate WMUR to hold a Republican presidential primary debate on Thursday, Jan. 18, also at Saint Anselm College.
“ABC News is excited to host this Republican debate with our partners in the nation’s first primary state of New Hampshire,” said ABC News President Kim Godwin. “Our powerhouse political team has been working hard on this debate to provide our audience with the opportunity to hear from the candidates at this decisive moment in the primary race.”
What gives? Is St. A’s really going to host two separate GOP primaries within 72 hours?
Probably not. And the problem appears to be CNN.
“Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm, told The Associated Press he was not aware of any planning for an event with CNN,” the AP reported.
On the other hand, the ABC News press release featured a quote from Levesque.
“The New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Saint Anselm College are delighted to continue the long-standing tradition of partnering with ABC News and WMUR-TV in hosting the New Hampshire primary debate,” Levesque said. “On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, presidential candidates of both parties have graced our campus and made their case ever since 2008 and in every presidential cycle since then as voters here are about to cast their votes.”
Asked about CNN’s announcement, Levesque told the AP, “I have no idea about anything with any other network.”
Another source familiar with the situation added, “CNN is inept.”
The announcements came in the wake of news that the Republican National Committee may loosen its debate rules and allow the candidates to participate in forums not sanctioned by the RNC. Rumors of a rule change have been circulating for over a week, though no formal decision has been announced.
RNC communications director Keith Schipper responded to a tweet attacking the decision to allow left-leaning CNN to host a Republican debate by retweeting the message: “The RNC has nothing to do with these debates.”
On the other hand, the ABC debates have the public support of New Hampshire GOP chair Chris Ager, who noted the event will follow GOP rules.
“The New Hampshire Republican State Committee is looking forward to working with our partners at ABC News, WMUR, and St. Anselm’s College for a New Hampshire Republican presidential primary debate subject to RNC guidelines,” Ager said.
Both networks said the details, such as the moderators and the format, are still to be determined. However, the key detail is which of the remaining candidates will participate? And what metrics in polling or fundraising will the networks use to limit access to the debate stage?
CNN has announced its parameters for debates in Iowa and New Hampshire, which include receiving 10 percent or more in at least three national and/or local polls. At least one poll must be a “of Republican caucusgoers or primary voters that meet CNN’s standards for reporting.”
Ron DeSantis has already taken to X to announce he is “looking forward” to debating in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But two Granite State debates within three days seems highly unlikely.
UPDATE: After this article published, a CNN spokesperson sent NHJournal the following comment:
“We can’t speak to any miscommunication within Saint Anselm, but we are moving forward with our plans to host a debate in New Hampshire on January 21.”