It will be front and center of the ever-nearer presidential election cycle. It will be nationally televised, streamed, X-tweeted, and covered by national and international news media.
Yet, the Republican presidential debate on December 6 at the University of Alabama will face distractions and competition for attention.
The debate will start at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday, December 6, and run for 90 minutes. It will be held on the University of Alabama campus in the Moody Music Building, where the Million Dollar Band practices and headquarters.
Since voting starts January 15 with the Iowa Republican caucuses followed quickly by primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, you might think that most will drop what they are doing and tune in to this fourth Republican presidential debate of the year. You might think that Alabama voters would be tuned in and starting to make their selection for Alabama's March 5 presidential preference primary. You could be wrong.
In no particular order, the December 6 debate is up against these distractions, some surprising:
Former President Donald Trump is the Republican front-runner by a mile, both nationally and in Alabama. He will not be on stage in Tuscaloosa on December 6. He has not participated in any previous debates, and it has not hurt him in the polls. Just as criminal cases against him in four jurisdictions have not hurt him. They may have helped him. Huge numbers of Americans and Alabamians think that the justice system has been weaponized and used politically against Trump.
Those on the stage on December 6 will be competing for second place. It's like a beauty pageant for first runner-up.
The number of debaters will drop, likely to four. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are expected to meet the stringent qualifications for debate four - number of donations and polling standings. The first debate on August 23 had eight qualifiers who debated.
There is a direct scheduling conflict with an event that is huge in Alabama, and it will also be held in Tuscaloosa on the University of Alabama campus. At the same time as the presidential debate, the state championship 7A football game will played at UA's Bryant-Denny stadium, just blocks from the debate.
7A is the largest class of high school athletics programs, the big boys. It will involve two of these teams: Hewitt-Trussville, Thompson High of Alabaster, Central of Phenix City and Mary G. Montgomery of the Mobile suburb of Semmes.
For the two schools who make it to the championship game, the game will be more important, by a mile, than the presidential debate. The teams and coaching staffs, the players' families, the students and faculty, the school alums, and the several hundred thousand Alabama folks who follow high school football, which reaches religious fervor, will follow the game, not the debate.
The championship game has been scheduled for this particular night for years. Whoever scheduled the presidential debate could have done a conflicts check.
The debate is just four days after the SEC Championship football game, December 2, featuring the Alabama Crimson Tide versus the Georgia Bulldogs. The aftershocks from that game will still be felt in Tuscaloosa and, indeed, in all of Alabama when the presidential candidates come to town.
Just as importantly, the four teams will be announced on December 3 who will compete in the College Football Playoffs to determine the national championship. The huge Alabama family will either be super-excited, looking forward to going to the playoff games, or they will be disappointed in not making the top four. Either way, the 10 million Alabama fans across the state and nation will be concerned with something other than the debate.
If the Alabama Crimson Tide do not make it into the top four for the CFP championships, the Tide will be invited to a major bowl game. That bowl invitation will be made on Sunday, December 3. Tide fans and many in Tuscaloosa will be busy making accommodations for the bowl game. They could easily forget the December 6 debate.
Christmas shopping and preparations have begun in earnest by December 6.
Viewing audiences for the three previous debates have been thin. With all the distractions, viewership of the December 6 debate in Tuscaloosa could be even thinner.
Jim Zeigler is former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].
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