LGBTQ voters: Mark your calendars. Over the next month, there will be four Democratic presidential candidate forums—two of them devoted exclusively to LGBTQ issues. And one of those LGBTQ forums will be the first-ever to be broadcast by a major network.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is partnering with CNN to host a nationally televised LGBTQ presidential town hall on October 10, similar to the recent climate change town hall hosted by CNN on September 3. As with the climate change event, the LGBTQ forum will have each candidate on stage with a CNN moderator for a set period of time to answer questions from the moderator and members of the audience.
Lucas Acosta, HRC’s national press secretary, said some details are still being worked out, but any candidate who meets the Democratic Party’s threshold criteria for participating in the party’s debates will be invited to participate in the LGBTQ forum.
Acosta said HRC has already received indications from many of the top polling candidates that they will participate: former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar; former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
This will not be the first HRC-organized presidential candidate forum. The group staged similar forums during the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns.
The 2008 HRC presidential forum (held in August 2007) was broadcast live on MTV’s newly launched LGBTQ cable channel Logo. Six of the eight major Democratic candidates at the time participated, but then-U.S. Senator Biden declined, citing a scheduling conflict. Republicans were invited in 2007, but none agreed to participate.
Acosta said HRC has decided not to invite Republicans this year.
“We’re dedicated to defeating Donald Trump,” said Acosta.
There are only two Republican candidates challenging President Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination, and polling shows the president garnering between 66 and 85 percent of support among Republican primary votes. The Republican challengers include former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois. Adding to the challengers’ obstacles, the Republican Party in South Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, and Nevada are reportedly considering canceling Republican primaries in those states, according to Politico.com.
Acosta said the HRC-CNN forum in Los Angeles will have a different audience from this month’s LGBTQ presidential forum, which will be organized by local and national LGBTQ media groups. The September 20 Iowa-based forum is expected to be live-streamed online and will be led by GLAAD, The Advocate magazine, the LGBTQ group One Iowa, and a local Cedar Rapids newspaper, called The Gazette.
The two other national Democratic presidential candidate events during the four weeks are both Democratic Party national debates on an as-yet unspecified range of topics.
So far, LGBTQ issues have not gotten much air play in the Democratic Party debates, even though one of the top tier candidates is openly gay South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Recent national polls have shown support for Buttigieg slipping, but he is still hanging onto fifth place among the 20 remaining viable candidates and he is still garnering well above the party’s two percent minimum for qualifying for the debates.
But with the top three Democratic candidates in the double-digits, Buttigieg, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, and others will be under pressure to perform well in upcoming debates in order to avoid being written off by political pundits.
Buttigieg has in recent days dramatically escalated his criticism of President Trump and his references to his religious beliefs. During his time onstage at the September 3 CNN Climate Change Town Hall, Buttigieg said, “it’s a kind of sin” to ignore the harm being done by climate change. Every religious and non-religious moral tradition tells us that we have some responsibility of stewardship” of the planet.
On a radio interview show September 6, Buttigieg quoted the Bible as saying “life begins with breath” to argue that, no matter how various people interpret that passage, when it comes to a woman’s right to have an abortion, “The most important thing is the person who should be drawing the line is the woman making the decision.”
Every time Buttigieg quotes the Bible on the campaign trail, he unleashes a flurry of retorts from conservative media, and that could increase the likelihood of a question regarding religion being posed to him during the national debates.
Find where to watch the upcoming forums below:
• Thursday, October 10, 8 p.m. ET: CNN and the HRC are collaborating to stage a live nationally broadcast town hall for Democratic candidates on LGBTQ issues. The event, scheduled for the eve of National Coming Out Day, will take place in Los Angeles, and HRC says it has confirmations already from Biden, Buttigieg, Castro, Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren. As the first-ever nationally broadcast LGBTQ presidential town hall, it will provide the general public with an unprecedented glimpse into the Democratic candidates’ positions on LGBTQ issues. CNN will broadcast and livestream the event live during prime time. Official estimates of CNN’s audience size for the climate change town hall averaged 1.1 million people during the seven-hour event. Viewership was up slightly –to 1.4 million— during the last three hours, between 8 and 11 p.m.
• Tuesday, October 15, Time TBA: The fourth nationally televised Democratic candidates’ debate will be held in Ohio. Campaigns have until October 1 to qualify, using the same criteria used for the September 12 debate. The 10 candidates from the September 12 debate will be on stage, along with at least one new qualifier, businessman Tom Steyer. There is a possibility that the candidates will be staged over two nights.
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