WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The Democratic Presidential Campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are standing firm that they will not participate in a controversial FOX News Channel debate although former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings vows to win over one candidate in order to get the other. "We're going to get them," says Cummings in a recent interview reflecting on the All-American Forum that focused on issues of importance to Black voters. "I think what we're trying to do now is get one of the major candidates like Obama or Clinton and once one comes, the other comes."
Cummings was able to broker a similar FOX News Channel Democratic presidential debate in 2004 despite heavy criticism that the ultra conservative station is not friendly to African-Americans.
But, a key element is missing in the plans so far. That is the two top candidates, both of whom have declined the FOX debate, saying they will participate in those debates sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee.
The first FOX News debate, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, will be Democratic candidates on Sept. 23 in Detroit. The second Democratic debate, scheduled for January 2008 on CNN will take place in South Carolina. The Republican debates are still being planned.
"We will only be participating in the upcoming six sanctioned DNC debates. Thank you," says Clinton spokeswoman Traci Otey Blunt.
Obama's campaign spokeswoman, Candice Tolliver, was slightly less firm.
"At this juncture, the campaign has committed to six sanctioned DNC debates. At this point, we are standing by our earlier statement that we are only committing to the CBC Institute's CNN debate in South Carolina in January," says Tolliver.
Ironically, Tolliver was also a spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus Institute earlier this year, defending the Institute against attacks from activists critical of the debate being held on FOX.
"Our goal, was, number one to get broadcast partners who would enable us to reach the greatest number of households. And CNN and FOX news, whether they are liberal or conservative are the largest cable news networks in the world," she said in an NNPA interview. FOX News boasts 86 million viewers while CNN boasts 105 million.
Cummings, an announced Obama supporter, says the Institute is moving ahead with plans for the debate despite steady criticism from ColorofChange.org, an online lobbying group aimed at promoting and resolving issues effecting Black Americans.
The group's Executive Director James Rucker, accuses the CBC if "legitimizing a network that calls Black churches a cult, implies that Barack Obama is a terrorist, and uses the solemn occasion of Coretta Scott King's funeral to call Black leaders 'racist.'"
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's the Rev. Jesse Jackson has also opposed the debate on FOX, calling it the "Fox guarding the henhouse."
Thousands of phone calls, letters and emails have inundated the Institute's Capitol Hill offices. But, Cummings remains adamant.
"Let me be real clear. FOX was willing, when nobody else was willing to take our debate and to take it beyond a 1500-room auditorium. It's nice to have a debate, but if you're going to limit it to 1500 people as opposed to millions, that's a no-brainer for me," he says.
Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes has issued a statement expressing pride in their agreement with the CBC.
Cummings noted that all of the major stations have a ways to go in their racial inclusion and fairness.
But, as for FOX, "Again, they were the ones who stepped up to the plate. The key is to get - and we did - African-American asking key questions like this. That's what we're looking for."