LGBT voters: Mark your calendars. Over the next month, there will be four Democratic presidential candidate forums —two of them devoted exclusively to LGBT issues. And one of those LGBT forums will be the first-ever to be broadcast by a major network.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is partnering with CNN to host a nationally televised LGBT presidential "town hall," October 10, similar to the climate change town hall CNN hosted September 3. As with the climate change event, the LGBT 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 LGBT 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 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 LGBT 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 the September 20 LGBT presidential forum being organized by LGBT media organizations and a local newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Iowa-based forum is expected to be livestreamed over the internet and is being organized by the national LGBT media group GLAAD, the Iowa statewide LGBT group One Iowa, The Advocate magazine, and a local Cedar Rapids newspaper, called The Gazette. That forum will take place September 20.
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, LGBT 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 and 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.
Here's a quick guide on where to watch the upcoming forums:
Thursday, September 12, 8 p.m. ET on ABC: The Democratic Party will host its third national debate. This time, only 10 candidates, including openly gay hopeful Pete Buttigieg, have met the party's ever-increasing hurdle to participate: at least two percent of support in four national polls and at least 130,000 donors giving to their campaigns. In addition to Buttigieg, the 10 include U.S. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. It also includes former Vice President Joe Biden, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, and technology businessman Andrew Yang. The debate will be nationally broadcast by ABC and Univision from the Texas Southern University in Houston from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern Time. Viewers can also watch a livestream at one of several sites, including ABCNews.com and Facebook Watch. Four journalists will be moderating: George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis, and Jorge Ramos.
Friday, September 20, 8 p.m. ET: The national LGBT media group GLAAD, the LGBT statewide group One Iowa, the national LGBT magazine The Advocate, and the local Cedar Rapids newspaper The Gazette are hosting the event. It will take place in Cedar Rapids in Iowa, the first state that will register its preference for a Democratic candidate during its caucuses February 3. As of deadline this week, the confirmed participants include Biden, Booker, Castro, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former U.S. Rep Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, and author Marianne Williamson. A GLAAD press release says the organization believes LGBT issues have been "largely absent" from the 2020 presidential campaign so far. According to The Gazette, each candidate will be asked to present a statement regarding LGBT issues and take questions from three moderators: Advocate editor-in-chief Zach Stafford, Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz, and One Iowa policy director Kennan Crow.
Thursday, October 10, 8 p.m. ET: CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation are collaborating to stage a live nationally broadcast town hall for Democratic candidates on LGBT 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 LGBT presidential town hall, it will provide the general public with an unprecedented glimpse into the Democratic candidates' positions on LGBT 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 onstage, along with at least one new qualifier, businessman Tom Steyer. There is a possibility the candidates will be staged over two nights.
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