U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and David Jolly drew 81,000 live viewers for their internet-webcast U.S. Senate debate Monday night plus another 186,000 and counting views on the YouTube post of the video.
In addition, at least 41 TV stations appeared to have taken video clips or otherwise covered the debate as a news story.
Whether that’s enough to make an impact in their respective races, in which Grayson is seeking the Democratic primary nomination and Jolly the Republican, may not yet be easy to measure. The primary opponents for Grayson and Jolly were critical of the debate.
But the group that organized the debate is expressing glee over the viewership.
“It went just as well as we could have possibly imagined,” said Lilia Tamm, program coordinator for the Open Debate Coalition.
The two debated for 75 minutes Monday, in a novel format. They took questions that had been proposed and voted on by people over the internet. The debate, held at the WUCF studio in Orlando, was webcast live and provided no-strings-attached to any media that wanted it.
Jolly and Grayson aren’t running against each other, at least not yet. That will be decided by the Aug. 30 primaries, in which Jolly, of Seminole, faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, businessman Todd Wilcox of Orlando and businessman Carlos Beruff of Bradenton. Grayson would have to defeat U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and attorney Pam Keith of Palm Beach Gardens.
Grayson expressed confidence Wednesday that the debate has helped him, and likely has helped Jolly, too, whom he praised as having “acquitted his positions very well” Monday night. Grayson said nothing he has ever done has been reported on by 41 television stations.
Jolly was on the floor of Congress Wednesday afternoon, not immediately available to comment on the debate. However, immediately after it was finished on Monday he expressed strong praise.
Social media and internet comments, Grayson said, were “overwhelmingly positive, not just about the format, but about the things that got said.” And he added that he suspects the viewership through Facebook would be far higher than the 186,000 YouTube views the coalition had tracked through Wednesday afternoon.
He also said his campaign is looking into using the debate video, or links to it, in campaign advertising, or make it available to groups.
“What I heard from people over and over again was this is what a debate ought to be,” he said.
Tamm said her group already has presented some of the preliminary results and reviews of the debate to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is meeting today in Washington, with the hope of convincing the commission to use the format.
This was the second time the coalition has put on a debate such as this. The first was in a 2013 congressional race in Massachusetts.
She said she also expects the Open Debate Coalition to present several more debates this year around the country, perhaps of other U.S. Senate races or gubernatorial races.