Presidential contender Mitt Romney’s decision to opt out of the first-ever presidential debate via Twitter, to take place at 3 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, appears to be further alienating him from the GOP’s grass-roots conservatives.
Todd Cefaratti, head of TheTeaParty.net group that is hosting the event, tells Newsmax that Romney’s non-participation is “just another thorn” in his relationship with grass-roots conservatives.
Romney is the only candidate to decline the invitation outright, according to Cefaratti.
“There are a lot of disgruntled conservatives out there regarding Mitt Romney,” comments Cefaratti. “Him bowing out of our debate is just another thorn.
“Why wouldn’t he be involved in our debate?” Cefaratti said. “He’s definitely not scoring any points — and there’s definitely that opportunity out there.”
Cefaratti says the governor’s staffers indicated they are worried he may not be able to convey his views adequately over Twitter because of its limitation of 140 characters per response.
But Cefaratti tells Newsmax that the debate rules allow candidates to issue as many responses as they want to a single question, as long as they do not exceed their two-minute-per-question response time.
Participating candidates include: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, business executive and talk host Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had a scheduling conflict. Two other candidates, Rep. Ron Paul and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, have yet to accept the organization’s invitation. Cefaratti says he is hoping they will join as late additions.
Wednesday’s debate will be hosted by nationally syndicated talk-radio host Rusty Humphries, whose show airs on SiriusXM as well as 250 stations nationwide.
"What an honor to be involved in something with such historical importance,” Humphries stated in a news release. “Direct access to our leaders is what our founders envisioned, and this ‘Twitter debate’ is exactly what our Republic needs at this time. I can't wait to see what a politician can say in 140 characters."
Some commentators hope the abbreviated format will force the candidates to abandon the spin and nuance that often makes it difficult to understand what their responses actually mean.
Columnist and commentator S.E. Cupp also will help moderate the debate, which will illustrate the growing importance of social media in political campaigns.
Voters interested in participating can log onto the organization’s website, TheTeaParty.net, to suggest a question for the candidates. They can also watch the event stream online at 140Townhall.com.
According to some analysts, Romney’s decision to forgo the debate is another signal his campaign does not envision a concerted appeal to the grass-roots, which already is highly skeptical of Romney because of his support in Massachusetts for healthcare reforms similar in some respects to the president’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Doug Schoen, a Democratic pollster, Fox News contributor, and Newsmax magazine columnist, says Romney may be distancing himself from the tea parties out of concern they could become radioactive due to the ongoing battle over the debt ceiling. He adds they weren’t particularly inclined to support him anyway.
“He sees where the tea parties are going with the deficit, and rightly believes their approach could damage him in the general election,” Schoen tells Newsmax. “His play is for moderates — and let everyone else split the conservative/tea party constituency.”
TheTeaParty.net, which was founded in 2009, sees its role as facilitating the grass-roots organizational efforts of others. It embraces the core tea party values of smaller government, less taxes, and constitutional governance, and is more interested in growing grow the movement than in espousing its own views, Cefaratti says.
The organization is represented on Capitol Hill by BrainTrain’s Donna Wiesner Keene, who is the wife of David Keene, former CPAC chief and current president of the National Rifle Association.
Cefaratti tells Newsmax his organization expects to have an opt-in email list of 2 million names by Election Day 2012. He credits its Rally Congress software with giving grass-roots efforts a major boost on Capitol Hill.
A few weeks ago, Rep Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked TheTeaParty.net to support The Postal Reform Act, which sets up supervisory boards that would trim the U.S. Postal Service’s deficit, currently over $8 billion per year. Cefaratti put up a banner on TheTeaParty.net site to do just that.
Based on zip code, the software automatically directs a message to the voter’s congressional representatives.
“Your representative has to answer to you, they can’t filter them out,” Cefaratti explains.
So far over 80,000 e-mails, letters, and faxes have gone out to urge the passage of The Postal Reform Act, he says.
“My assistant and I were sitting there laughing because it was like that commercial where you watch how many people are logged on and doing it, and it was spinning, we had like 12,000 in like 30 minutes,” Cefaratti says.
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