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Inside the Richardson Debate Prep Room


Although I am "Off the Bus," I am privileged by having a long friendship and professional relationship with Jeff Parcher, Senior Communications Advisor to the Richardson campaign. I first met Jeff when he was a national caliber debater for Western Washington University and I was a judge. Jeff went on to be the Debate Coach at Georgetown University where his team was always one of the best prepared in the nation and won the National Debate Tournament in 1992.

Jeff will do another interview with us comparing and contrasting candidate debate prep with the college debate activity after the non-stop intensity of preparing for tomorrow night's CNN/YouTube debate, but for now we are grateful he found the time to tell us about the unique challenges posed by prepping for a debate in which all of the questions are viewable in advance and are submitted by the public:

Q: How do you sort the questions? Do you have some criteria and assistance going through and pulling out the higher priority questions for practice and research? Parcher: We had research staff watch every video and put each question in a database. Priority was given to questions we hadn't had before and/or those that seemed to have a high probability of being chosen (based on newsworthiness, articulation, incisiveness, etc)

Q: I would guess that the CNN people will pick questions that have some visual or audio originality. Other than making sure you have good answers to tough (in terms of Democratic primary) politics or new (not covered in previous debates) questions do you make predictions about what questions might be used based on their production value?
Parcher: To some extent, yes. But at the end of the day the job of a staff is to make sure the Governor is briefed on everything that is relevant to being President of the United States.

Q: Have you used the Community Counts site where people can vote for their favorites questions?
Parcher: Not directly - although communication staff was made aware of what videos seemed hot.

Q: Most of the questions seem to "for all of the candidates" -- have you found very many that are directed to Governor Richardson?
Parcher: Four as of Sunday morning.

Q: The Biden campaign is urging supporters to challenge the other candidates on how they would affect a political solution in Iraq with his own submission portal. The RNC also is encouraging Republicans to submit. Do you pay any special attention to these sources of questions?
Parcher: No. We looked at each question based on its merit and not its source.

Q: Do you compile some of the video and load it onto a device so the Governor can practice when he has spare time on the road?
Parcher: No. But the Governor has seen many of the questions.

Q: Does having citizen submitted video make it more enjoyable for the Governor to practice?
Parcher: Yes. The Governor favors retail campaigning - his favorite events are town halls where he can engage voters directly without media filters and pundits. He also has a great sense of humor and many of the videos are funny.

Q: Are there any other aspects of the prep for this debate that are unique because of the YouTube format?
Parcher: The breadth of the questions and especially the involvement of so many young Americans has made this quite different, unique and potentially a great new addition to the debate process.

Q: Hillary and Biden are planning debatewatch events associated with the debate and Edwards is offering to answer questions live after the debate if people submit them via his portal.. I do not yet see any special use of the debate at the Richardson website. Are there plans to leverage the event in any way?
Parcher: One thing we like to do is put the Governor himself into the media room after the debate rather than surrogate spin doctors. Few, if any, of the other candidates have been as accessible. We also have debate watch events being done on the grass roots level in most of the key early states.

Thanks, Jeff.