By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – Delegates to a summer meeting of the Republican National Committee are scheduled to vote Friday on a possible boycott of 2016 presidential debates sponsored by CNN and NBC if the networks go ahead with plans for special programs on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Republican leaders last week sent letters of protest to both networks complaining that a planned CNN documentary and an NBC miniseries amount to political ads for the former secretary of state, who is seen as a likely 2016 contender for the White House.
The vote is scheduled for the last day of a three-day gathering called “Making it Happen,” where Republicans are discussing ways to use technology and other means to connect with a wider range of voters, following Mitt Romney’s failure to unseat incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
CNN officials have said their documentary, due to appear in theaters and on television in 2014, is not yet complete, while NBC said its mini-series is being produced by an entertainment unit, which is independent of the news division.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus had said that if CNN and NBC did not scrap their Clinton programs, he would seek an RNC vote saying the Republican Party would not work with the two networks on its 2016 primary debates or sanction the debates sponsored by them.
In preparation for the next presidential election, Priebus said the party would consider holding its 2016 nominating convention in June or July, rather than August, to reduce the amount of time Republican candidates spend competing against one another. An earlier convention also would allow the Republican nominee to focus on the Democratic opponent.
“Our party should not be involved in setting up a system that encourages the slicing and dicing of candidates over a long period of time with moderators that are not in the business of being at all concerned about the future of our party,” Priebus told reporters this week.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, seen as a likely 2016 Republican contender for the White House, addressed the meeting in a closed-door session Thursday. New England Republicans including Maine Governor Paul LePage and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown also mingled with delegates from state party organizations.
Clinton, the former first lady and U.S. senator from New York, has not yet said if she will run for president in 2016 as she did in 2008 but Republicans at the meeting clearly saw her as a threat.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday said Republicans needed to change their tone to focus on new ideas, rather than focusing on “anti-Obama” messages, to prepare for 2016.
“I don’t think we beat Hillary Clinton in a personality fight because the news media will prop her up,” Gingrich said.
Republicans are holding their regular summer meeting in a Boston hotel next door to the convention center where Romney delivered his election night concession speech nine months ago. They moved the meeting, originally due to be held in Chicago, to Boston as a show of support after the April 15 bombing of the city’s marathon.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)