CNN pushes back Arizona GOP primary debate Staff
Posted: Nov 09, 2011 10:30 AM

PHOENIX -- Arizonans will have to wait a bit longer to hear Republican presidential hopefuls discuss border issues here.

The Arizona Republican Party announced late Tuesday that the forum, originally set for Nov. 30, now has been moved to Feb. 22. That is just six days before the state's presidential preference primary.

It also means that the debate will occur after many Republicans already have cast their ballots, as early voting starts 26 days before the Feb. 28 primary.

Shane Wikfors, spokesman for the state GOP, said the move was made by debate sponsor CNN. He said while the network informed both the governor's office and the party of the move, there was no explanation for why the change.

"Obviously, it takes a bit of the wind out of our sails at the moment," he said of the decision. But Wikfors said while the state had hoped to be an early player in helping to cull the crowded GOP field, the move is not necessarily a bad thing.

He said that there will have been several primaries and party caucuses by the Feb. 22 date. And Wikfors predicted that some of those currently running will have fallen by the wayside.

"But if we're down to four or five candidates by that time, it definitely distills focus on our issues here in Arizona because you obviously have some more high-caliber candidates still in the race," he said. Potentially more significant, having just a handful of contenders changes the debate format, "so you're not just throwing 15 to 30-second answers out."

Gov. Jan Brewer had been the prime proponent of the debate. But press aide Matthew Benson said the governor was never married to the idea of having the event very early in the process.

"She wanted to get the candidates here and get them in front of Arizona voters and get them here in advance of our presidential preference election," Benson said.

"There was never anything magical about Nov. 30," he continued. And he echoed Wikfors' belief that a narrowed field "will give voters a more in-depth look at the major candidates."