Mary Katharine Ham

Republican candidates are gearing up for a fight in St. Petersburg at Wednesday night’s CNN/YouTube debate, as critical mailers and rhetorical punches have begun to fly with just five weeks to go until primary voting kicks off.

This is the debate that almost wasn’t. Republican candidates, skeptical of the user-generated questions and how they’d be chosen, at first declined invitations, but changed their minds after a flurry of debate within the right-wing blogosphere and mainstream media.

David Bohrman, CNN’s D.C. Bureau chief and mastermind of the CNN/YouTube collaboration, is glad the candidates decided to jump in:

“I think, by and large, the campaigns are nervous,” he said. “It’s out of everyone’s comfort zone. But I think it was inevitable that they had to really do it. There was a lot of concern expressed that it wasn’t presidential enough,” but Bohrman assured them questioning would be respectful.

Of course, given the recent question-planting in Hillary’s campaign and CNN’s failure to disclose the affiliations of some of its “undecided voters” in the Democrat debate in Las Vegas, I had some concerns of my own.

I talked with debate moderator Anderson Cooper and Bohrman for a few minutes Monday about Internet politics, the

talking snowman, Jackie and Dunlap, and how they choose and vet YouTubers.

Q: Things are heating up on both primary sides right about now. How does it feel to know you’re walking into a slugfest?

AC: “You know, you never know what it’s gonna end up being like. It’ll certainly be interesting…rhetoric’s been heating up.”

Q: Why do it? Why does a YouTube debate matter, and what does it mean for politics in ’08—this democratization of politics?

AC: “I’m not sure where it’s going. It’s definitely changing things, I think. I’ve watched basically all the debates since the first YouTube debate—all had some kind of user-generated content, I think…”

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s the way it goes.

“But once you’ve seen the possibilities, it’s pretty interesting, and technology’s only going to improve.”

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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