* First Twitter debate gives candidates a new platform
* Groundbreaking format, but answers are familiar
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, July 20 Six Republican White House
hopefuls unleashed a torrent of 140-character policy
pronouncements on jobs, government debt and the Tea Party on
Wednesday during the first presidential debate on Twitter.
The event, hosted by an online conservative Tea Party
group, gave participants a chance to raise their profile and
build their followings on the popular social media site, which
is increasingly used to distribute campaign messages.
While the format was groundbreaking the responses were not.Twitter's 140-character or less length limit forced the usually
verbose candidates to issue talking points that sounded more
like campaign slogans.
"Government doesn't create jobs. Businesses create jobs.
Government needs to get out of the way," former pizza executive
Herman Cain responded when asked if a president can create jobs
without expanding the federal government.
"I will not rest until Obamacare is repealed. You can take
it to the bank," tweeted Representative Michele Bachmann, using
the derisive term favored by critics of President Barack
Obama's healthcare overhaul.
The debate featured general questions from moderator S.E.
Cupp, a conservative columnist and author, and individual
questions posed to specific candidates by the public.
Once the questions were asked, the candidates were given
time to fire off responses that popped into the group's Twitter
feed in the order they were sent. The public also responded,
keeping up a rolling commentary.
While it was slow to get rolling, Cupp said the debate
averaged 180 tweets a minute and earned 3,800 mentions and
4,500 retweets. Bachmann had the most mentions and gained the
most new followers, while Cain was retweeted the most.
After the debate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich even
hosted a social media after-party, inviting participants to
join his Google+ Hangout on Thursday.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who leads polls
and fund raising in the Republican nominating race, skipped the
debate. So did Representative Ron Paul, and former governors
Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Jon Huntsman of Utah.
But Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, former Senator Rick Santorum,
Representative Thaddeus McCotter and former New Mexico Governor
Gary Johnson all participated from sites across the country.
Repealing Obama's healthcare initiative was a favorite
theme for the debaters, who said it was damaging the economy
and limiting personal choice.
Bachmann called the program "the largest entitlement and
spending program in our country's history." Santorum said
suspending implementation of the initiative would be his first
executive order as president.
Not surprisingly, the candidates praised the fiscally
conservative Tea Party movement for battling big government and
predicted it would play a key role in the 2012 election.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)