WASHINGTON – You think presidential debates are challenging? Try limiting your answers to 140 characters.
Six Republican presidential hopefuls traded tweets in the first presidential debate conducted through Twitter on Wednesday, outlining their agendas across the popular social media service.
In brief responses that buzzed across cyberspace, the GOP field challenged President Barack Obama's approaches to the ongoing debate over the debt ceiling, job creation and the U.S. involvement in Libya. Republican candidates criticized Obama's handling of the economy and efforts to reform health care, while using the medium to share links to introductory videos and websites.
"Obama failed. With ur help we can return the people's voice to the WH, restore fiscal sanity & make Obama a 1 term president," said Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, reflecting the clipped jargon commonly found on Twitter.
Obama held a town hall forum through Twitter earlier this month, answering questions from followers and promoting his agenda. Politicians and campaigns have taken to the social media service because it has become increasingly popular with voters and gives lawmakers the chance to connect directly with their constituents.
While televised debates can lead to longwinded answers, the Twitter forum places a premium on being terse. Asked whether a president can create jobs without expanding the role of the federal government, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tweeted: "The federal govt kills jobs!" Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, responding to a question on whether the U.S. should have gone into Libya, tweeted: "Absolutely not" and then followed up: "Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya - Get out now!"
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., offered a punchy economic plan: "Control spending. Put Americans back to work. Get back to a balanced budget as we did when I was Speaker." Gingrich was one of several candidates to post a link to his introductory video and later invited followers with more questions to go to his Google+ Hangout on Wednesday evening.
Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who recently entered the Republican field, answered several questions through multiple tweets. Asked about the role of the tea party in next year's election, McCotter said its role "remains 2 be determined - not by its members - but by the GOP's actions."
The 90-minute debate was sponsored by TheTeaParty.net and allowed people to submit questions through Twitter. Each candidate gave opening and closing statements and answered questions posed by conservative commentator S.E. Cupp along with individual questions asked by people on the social media service. Shortly after the final tweet, Cupp said the forum averaged 180 tweets per minute and more than 4,500 responses were retweeted.
Ken Thomas can be reached at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas