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Obama and Gingrich to Debate with No Moderator? Not Likely

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Could Newt Gingrich and President Obama actually debate each other for three hours with no moderator -- seven times?

That’s what Gingrich apparently wants.  The 2012 hopeful has pledged repeatedly to challenge Obama to a series of  “Lincoln-Douglas”-style debates if he’s the Republican nominee for president.

But the chance of such debates happening is low. The Obama campaign didn’t respond when asked if it would consider Gingrich’s proposal -- even after Gingrich teased Obama could "bring his teleprompter" -- and historians and presidential observers note that the challenge, not an unusual one, is more of a coy suggestion designed to bolster a nonincumbent.

On Monday, Gingrich and Jon Huntsman had a debate in New Hampshire fashioned after the Lincoln-Douglas forum.  A time-keeper -- not a moderator -- sat next to the two and spoke only after a candidate had finished talking, and just to introduce the other.

Gingrich said at the beginning that the debate would lend itself to unpredictability because “you don’t have talking points, your consultants didn’t figure it out, you didn’t do focus groups, you’re just talking from your own experience about the nature of the world.”

The time-keeper said at one point that he wouldn’t be using buzzers, horns or bells to cut off the candidates. “And we’re grateful,” Gingrich replied.

If anything, by extending the offer to Obama, Gingrich is not only showing his own self-confidence that he can debate Obama comfortably, but he separates himself even further from the pack of GOP contenders whom he’s already debated a dozen times.

“Tactically, it’s a smart move,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on campaigns who has observed the history of presidential debates. “Effectively, it takes some of the other candidates out of question.”

The exact logistics of Gingrich’s desired Lincoln-Douglas format have not been specified, and the show itself might not be that entertaining to some of the viewing public.  Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas discussed issues -- mainly slavery -- seven times during their 1858 Senate race, but the audience didn’t witness heated exchanges so much as lengthy speeches.  One candidate would speak for an hour; the next would respond in 90 minutes; and the first would return with a half-hour rebuttal.

In today’s media environment, voters might tune in for the first in the series of unmoderated policy speeches in a general election, but for seven?

“There’s a danger that it would fail to hold interest,” said David Greenberg, a presidential historian who has cautioned against romanticizing debates modeled after the Lincoln-Douglas style.  “What kind of ratings does C-Span get?”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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