It was billed as an innovative and groundbreaking move, a way to get presidential candidates to answer questions directly from American citizens in a major public forum. While they may not have produced many new answers, YouTube and its users did change the feel of presidential debates Monday night as people sent videos of themselves posing questions.
Some appeared alone in plain clothes asking the candidates serious questions, while others appeared in twos. Some snippets were slightly produced, including one from a man who played a guitar and sang a song about taxes.
Monday night's Democratic debate, aired on CNN and preserved on YouTube for those who didn't get to see it live, marked the first time a full panel of Democratic hopefuls interacted with the public through the Internet, television, and a packed studio simultaneously.
Voters posing questions in flannel shirts, T-shirts, and hats made for a lighter, less formal, more direct, and slightly goofy tone compared to previous debates packed with screened audiences sitting upright in their Sunday, or Monday, best.
Two young African-American women asked the candidates whether they would accept minimum wage for the job of President. Most of the candidates said they would.
Although it won't happen, it's not that often anyone observing campaigns gets to see minimum wage workers address candidates in front of millions of viewers, as Cecilia Smith of Pennsylvania did with a friend who beamed with a broad smile at her side.
About 3,000 questions from regular Americans -- many who apparently couldn't resist breaking out their guitars, flags, and other props -- streamed in the form of genuine interviews and video spoofs. They covered wide ground, touching on the tragedies in Darfur, healthcare, the war in Iraq, what the candidates thought of each other, and "what is the worst thing you ever did?" CNN's Cooper Anderson presented 38 of them. The rest can still be viewed on YouTube, of course.
The Republican debates are planned for September, in a similar format.