Two networks announce GOP debates just days apart at same NH school

Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy participate in a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy participate in a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert

By MEG KINNARD

Associated Press

Published: 12-07-2023 11:19 PM

WASHINGTON — Two television networks on Thursday announced they would hold separate Republican presidential debates at the same location in New Hampshire just ahead of that state’s GOP primary next month, but officials at Saint Anselm College said they were only aware of one of the events.

CNN said earlier in the day that it would host a Jan. 10 debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, five days before the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, and a Jan. 21 debate at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, two days before that state’s leadoff primary.

Later Thursday, ABC News and WMUR-TV announced that they would partner for a Jan. 18 debate at Saint Anselm College.

Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm, told The Associated Press he was not aware of any planning for an event with CNN.

“I have no idea about anything with any other network,” Levesque said Thursday night, referring to the CNN event.

Levesque was quoted in a news release about the ABC and WMUR-TV debate, noting that both Democratic and Republican candidates had participated in debates at the college in every presidential cycle since 2008.

No Saint Anselm official was quoted in CNN’s release about its Iowa and New Hampshire debates, although Drake University — the site of CNN’s Iowa debate — did issue its own news release about that event.

A spokesperson for CNN declined to comment on the situation Thursday night.

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The debate announcements came a day after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie met for the fourth debate of the 2024 primary season. Former President Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner for the 2024 nomination, has yet to take part in any debate and has said he doesn’t plan to.

Keith Schipper, the Republican National Committee’s communications director, posted on X that the CNN events “are not RNC-sanctioned debates.” Chris Ager, chair of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, said in a news release that the ABC debate would take place “subject to RNC guidelines.”

According to a person familiar with the plans, the RNC’s Debates Committee is discussing releasing candidates from prohibitions on participating in debates not approved by the party, but that decision has not yet been made. The person was not authorized to discuss the plans publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The qualifications for candidates to participate in the debates are getting stricter. To qualify for CNN’s Iowa debate, candidates must register at least 10% support in three separate polls, either nationally or in Iowa, according to CNN.

CNN said candidates who finish in one of the top three spots in the Iowa caucuses would be invited to participate in its New Hampshire debate, as well as those who meet CNN’s polling qualification, which include a 10% polling threshold in New Hampshire.

One of the three polls must be an approved CNN poll from the respective state. Unlike previous debates approved by the RNC, participants are not required to meet fundraising marks from a specific number of donors.

The qualifying window for the Iowa debate closes Jan. 2. It’s Jan. 16 for the New Hampshire debate.

ABC and WMUR-TV did not specify qualifications for their New Hampshire debate, saying the information would be released at a later date.