It's got more bells and whistles than a video game and could send the candidates into anaphylactic shock
Manchester, N.H. -- By nature, I'm a debate skeptic. They're hard to differentiate, and the last one is usually forgotten as soon as the next one rolls around. But having just taken a tour of tonight's CNN debate layout-and-tech-wizardry, I am willing to suspend my disbelief. That's because CNN's format has so many tech and social-media bells and whistles that it seems more like a video game than a staid political debate, and therefore more likely to trip up the candidates--or, as I suppose CNN would say, "elicit interesting responses." Which is very much by design. "YouTube seems so four years ago, doesn't it?" David Bohrman, CNN's senior vice president and "chief innovation officer," said airily.
First, there's the stage. Nothing too techy about it (see picture above), but as Bohrman explained, the order of the candidates--Mitt Romney in the middle, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain on the wings, etc.--was determined by some precise formula that took into account various polling metrics in order to situate the most popular candidates at the center. "CNN determined the order," Bohrman told us. "It strikes us that Gov. Romney is essentially the hometown candidate. We suspect a lot of the conversation will revolve around the governor and the decisions he's made." I got the sense CNN is very much rooting for this outcome.
Once the candidates have taken the stage in precisely the right order, they're going to get hit from all sides. There will be, of course, the audience and the moderator, CNN's John King. But just before the stage is something the CNNers have dubbed "The Red Zone," where a group of registered Republican voters will be sitting who have not yet chosen a candidate. Big emphasis on that last part from Bohrman, who made it known that the network had gone to considerable effort to verify the open-mindedness of the Red Zoners and ensure that CNN didn't get punked. The Red Zone is a sort of a living, breathing, real-time focus group. But it is not only that! The Red Zone folks aren't going to just sit by, passively, stewing about Obamacare. Oh no, they're not. They'll get to ask questions of the candidates during the debate.