Republican debate candidates love the grandeur and largesse of their host, Venetian Resort owner Sheldon Adelson. But they are mighty worried about his brand of crowd control at tonight's CNN debate -- and have been since it first was planned.
Oh, they know Adelson's security guards can handle hecklers and protesters. But how about the crowd that gets to sit and clap and cheer during the event itself? This debate is expected to break the ratings bank.
Candidates are worried the billionaire casino mogul will stack the deck against them and for Adelson's perceived candidate of choice, Marco Rubio.
Adelson, one of the most prolific Republican donors in the country, is yet to publicly endorse anyone. But insiders say they it's only a matter of time before he gets behind Marco Rubio, directing millions of dollars his way.
Campaign officials Monday were pressing the Republican National Committee on whether Adelson had received an extra block of tickets for tonight's debate -- and used it as an opportunity to stuff the audience with supporters of whoever he ends up endorsing.
Weeks earlier, on a private conference call hosted by RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh to discuss plans for the debate with GOP campaigns, Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to Rand Paul, kicked off the discussion by stating, “I have concerns about our friends in Vegas being given an extra block of tickets that could be used for crowd stacking.”
The worries persist.
Huffington Post reported this morning that "all campaigns but Rubio's are worried aloud that Adelson will pack the house with ringers primed to cheer the senator's every declamation -- swaying the viewing audience, the pundits and, within hours, the polls."
As petty as presidential debate rules get, this concern seems to rise to a higher level.
And no matter how many instructions you give to the audience, you’re never going to stop the crowd from reacting to candidates' comments. Generally, the campaigns are given blocks of tickets and some others are made available for general consumption. Beyond that, campaigns just cross their fingers and hope for the best.
Here's what campaign teams fear: If Adelson endorses Rubio as expected, and he can get a significant number of pre-programmed supporters in the audience, the post-debate results could reflect an audience cheering for every Rubio answer and booing whenever Donald Trump or Ted Cruz speaks.
What happens is, undecided viewers respond with what they've heard when the pollsters call the next day. This was always going to be a complicated and perhaps insurmountable problem in debate planning, but it's all the tougher if one person who owns the venue gets to load up the audience.
We'll see how it goes tonight.
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