Twitter to join GOP fall debate

Get your thumbs ready and your TweetDeck launched: GOP gubernatorial hopefuls might soon be taking 140-character questions from the “tweeple” of California in a Twitter-powered debate hosted by Brandman University.

Brandman professor Mike Moodian tweeted the three leading candidates for the Republican nomination – @StevePoizner, @TalktoTom and @Whitman2010 – Monday to ask them to participate in a fall debate on how to fix California’s fiscal crisis.

Queries submitted through Twitter and e-mail will make up about half the questions in the 75-minute debate, which is set to be held at the Chapman University affiliate’s Irvine campus (The actual debate will be face-to-face, so the candidates won’t be limited to 140-character responses).

Moodian said he brought Twitter into the mix to give a greater pool of voters the opportunity to participate in the debate (a similar debate for Democratic candidates is also in the works). By allowing questions to be tracked, he also hopes that the debate’s Twitter feed can serve as a cyber snapshot of what’s on the minds of many Californians.

“We believe that this will help engage the younger generation of voters in California,” he said. “It is also ensuring the voices of citizens are included in the debates.”

Team Poizner was the first to “tweet” back, accepting the invite from the candidate’s trusty TwitterBerry at 12:02 p.m. – just two minutes after the initial invite hit the Twittersphere.

Meg Whitman later tweeted that she’ll look at the dates: “Thanks for the debate invite – I’ll consider the dates and respond soon.”

Tom Campbell’s camp responded that he is “looking forward to offering & debating specific solutions to California’s financial crisis with my fellow candidates at Brandman University.”

Moodian said he believes this is the first time a candidate for major office has accepted a debate invitation via a social networking site. He added that he gave all the campaigns a heads-up that the invites would be sent today, just in case they don’t have their account alerts on, and that the candidates also had the option of responding via e-mail, phone or snail mail (but those would have been so 2006).

The debate is in part inspired by the YouTube debates of the 2008 presidential elections, which drew attention for some creatively staged questions. While the exact mechanism for choosing questions hasn’t been determined, don’t expect the entertainment factor to influence selection this time around.

“If we do find some tweets that come in that are creative yet address a serious topic, we will include those. … (But) to us, this is a very serious debate and a critical time. There’s a good possibility we will be looking for common trends in questions,” Moodian said.