By Union Leader STAFF REPORTS
Facing new challenges to its first-in-the-nation primary status, New Hampshire will hold the first debates of the 2008 Presidential election season in April, several months earlier than in past primary cycles.
The state's largest daily newspapers, the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News, will team up with CNN and WMUR-TV to sponsor two debates on April 4 and 5, with one evening featuring Republican candidates and the other the Democrats. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer will moderate, and questions will be posed by John DiStaso, senior political reporter for The Union Leader, and WMUR's Scott Spradling.
The New Hampshire event will now predate a Democratic debate sponsored by MSNBC, set for April 26 in South Carolina, that had been billed as the first in the country.
Joseph McQuaid, president and publisher of The Union Leader, said organizers will invite candidates who have formed exploratory commitees as well as those who may not yet have formally declared their candidacies -- and he expects all will accept. "I don't think they can afford not to be part of the first-in-the-nation primary debate," he said.
The location of the April debates has not been set.