Republican Debate Marathon Continues With NBC News/Facebook Face-Off
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- After leaving Saturday night's debate, the Republican presidential candidates will return to their hotels and sleep for a few hours. Then it's back to the stage.
Just ten hours after wrapping up in Manchester, all six candidates will meet again nearly 20 miles north in Concord. And several hundred journalists watching the primetime ABC News/Yahoo debate on large screens in a nearby press filing center at Saint Anselm College will soon find themselves together once again, tapping out dispatches from a filing center near the Capitol Center for The Arts, where Sunday morning's NBC/Facebook debate will take place.
"Meet the Press" host and debate moderator David Gregory says its an "unusual situation to have them debating so close to each other." It may also be unprecedented. And while the two debates are being produced separately, there's likely to be some level of continuity from one to the other.
"We're in a position to see how it goes tonight and then follow up tomorrow," Gregory said in an interview with The Huffington Post, shortly after a Saturday afternoon rehearsal. He added that "whatever preparation we've done, we have to also be able to call an audible" and adjust the questions according to the candidates' responses from Saturday night.
So how will the candidates fare with back-to-back debates?
"All I will say is that the two debates will, I think, impact them," Gregory said. "It's tiring and they will have to decide on tone. Maybe more aggressive tonight and less so tomorrow. Or vice versa. I just don't know. But it will be a marathon for them."
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, no stranger himself to the debate stage, told The Huffington Post that the Republican candidates, currently in the thick of a primary fight, can handle it.
"They're going 90 miles-an-hour, six days a week anyhow, and whether they do a debate tomorrow morning or do four town halls, it's a long hard day no matter what," said Pawlenty, a supporter of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "I don't want to say it's an easy thing to do, but they're now conditioned to keep this kind of schedule so its more than manageable."
Gary Howard, a spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said after Saturday's debate that his candidate is well-prepared for the next one.
"Having them so close together, I don't see the wisdom in that, but that's the way it is so we deal with it and we're always going to be ready," Howard said. "Dr. Paul never changes. So he's going to say what he's going to say anytime he gets up there, no matter what."
The NBC/Facebook debate will present the last opportunity for Paul and his fellow candidates to share the stage before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, but Gregory expects that some are already looking forward to the next contest.
"I think this debate will be influential in New Hampshire," Gregory said. "But I think it will carry a lot of weight in South Carolina. I think a number of the candidates on stage are speaking directly to voters in South Carolina as they try to, in this case, slow Romney down."
In teaming up with Facebook, Gregory was able to draw from over 3,000 user-submitted questions, some of which will be interspersed with his own questions and follow-ups. Facebook users can participate in a real-time discussion during the debate, with NBC editorial staffers monitoring the chat for potential questions.
The 90-minute debate begins at 9:00 a.m. and will air in its entirety on MSNBC, Facebook, and local NBC affiliate WHDH. The first 60 minutes will air during the regular "Meet the Press" timeslot, with over 160 NBC stations -- roughly 84 percent of the national audience -- carrying the last half hour, too.
After the first 45 minutes, New Hampshire Union Leader political writer John DiStaso and WHDH's Andy Hiller join Gregory for 30 minutes. Then Gregory will finish up the last 15 minutes on his own.
Sunday will mark the first time Gregory, who began hosting "Meet the Press" following the 2008 election, has moderated a presidential primary debate.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about it at some level," he said. "But mostly, I'm really excited about it. I just want to do a good job and be thorough and try to break some new ground, especially when these debates have mattered so much."