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PolitiFact Fl. Checks Out Whether Democratic Debates Falter; Rubio's Boots

CNN's Brian Stelter with Debbie Wasserman Schultz

While the boisterous Republican presidential debates have captured headlines with the candidates trading accusations and charges, there hasn't been that kind of buzz from the Democrats. So when the chair of the Democratic National Committee said their debates are getting maximum exposure for their candidates, that raised the eyebrows of PolitiFact Florida. WUSF's Steve Newborn talks about that - and Marco Rubio's boots - with fact-checker Josh Gillin.

There have been only a handful of debates featuring the Democratic candidates, while it seems the Republican soirees make front-page news every couple of weeks. Democratic national chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of South Florida has come under some fire for what some say is an under-the-radar round of debates.

CNN's Brian Stelter confronted her recently, asking whether the Democrats actually want people watching their debates - most of which have been on weekends or holidays. Here's what she had to say:

"We have had a collection of robust viewership that has broken our records for prior debates," she said. "And frankly, and more importantly, we've had a much more substantive and serious discussion, where Americans have a chance - instead of watching the food fight happening on the other side of the aisle - get to hear our candidates and hear about how we're going to move our country forward."

To talk about the lack of food fights - and possibly viewers - we get the lowdown from fact-checkers with PolitiFact Florida. 

Democratic and Republican debate schedules in 2016

The Democrats scheduled six primary debates; the Republicans scheduled 11 primary debates (plus one more in March that is unscheduled). So far, Democrats have held four debates with a cumulative viewership of about 42.5 million while Republicans have held six debates with a cumulative viewership of about 103.7 million, according to Nielsen ratings of same-day viewership. Wasserman Schultz response In defense of Wasserman Schultz’s statement, DNC spokesman Sean Bartlett raised several points: • There are more GOP candidates than Democratic candidates. At the outset of the 2016 race, there were 17 Republican candidates but only five Democratic candidates. • Only three Democratic debates in 2008 topped the Democrats’ lowest rated debate this cycle. • The first Democratic debate drew 15.8 million viewers, surpassing the viewership of three of the Republican debates this cycle. • All but one of the Democratic debates are on broadcast network TV, which makes it more likely for people without cable to tune into the debates. • The schedule of one debate a month for six months doesn’t pull the candidates away from town halls and other events with voters. Still, Wasserman Schultz has faced constant questions about the debate schedule, specifically whether it was intended to help Clinton or minimize viewership. "That’s ridiculous," she said on Jan. 11 in Broward County. "I don’t know how many times I have to say it." She said that the Sunday debate in Charleston -- the city where nine African-Americans were killed at a church in 2015 -- was a recommendation by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and NBC to coincide with Martin Luther King weekend. Experts dispute Wasserman Schultz’s characterization We contacted five professors of political science and communications. None of them bought Wasserman Schultz’s statement. "By the time voting starts in Iowa, potential voters will have seen about 40 percent less of Democratic candidates on the debate stage than their Republican counterparts," University of Michigan’s Director of Debate Aaron Kall told PolitiFact. Kall cited several factors contributing to the larger Republican viewership: • The first Republican debate occurred in early August, before the start of the NFL and NCAA college football seasons. Viewer anticipation is usually highest for the first debate. The Democrats didn't host their first debate until over two months later.   • Of the four Democratic debates so far, three were on weekends, including the Dec. 19 debate a week before Christmas and the same night as the New York Jets vs. Dallas Cowboys NFL game. The Jan. 17 debate was the day before the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. Kall cited two major factors beyond the Democrats’ control that have aided superior Republican ratings: a much larger GOP field and the phenomenon of Donald Trump, an entertainment star in his own right from his time on The Apprentice. John Schroeder at Northeastern University noted that the two highest Republican debates each drew between 23 million and 24 million, much higher than the Democratic debates. While a lot of the disparity is due to Trump, another factor is that all the Republican debates so far have been held on weekdays. "I think we can safely say that weekend time slots are not the key to maximizing the viewing audience," Schroeder said. Our ruling Wasserman Schultz says the party came up with a debate schedule "to maximize the opportunity for voters to see our candidates." Wasserman Schultz’s best point is that the Democrats largely scheduled their debates with TV networks, which means viewers without cable can see them. But other than that, her statement is very disingenuous. There are six Democratic party debates compared with 11 scheduled for the Republicans, and half of the Democratic debates are on weekends -- including one the weekend before Christmas and another on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. If the Democrats had wanted to "maximize" opportunities for viewers, the party could have added more debates, scheduled them on weekdays and avoided holidays. We rate this claim False.

In our other fact-check of the day, were Marco Rubio's boots really made for walking?

His boots might be made for campaigning, but were they made in the USA, as he claims?

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

Rubio’s ankle boots became the subject of Internet scrutiny after he was photographed wearing them in New Hampshire on Jan. 3, 2016. Pundits and fashion columnists commented on them ad nauseam. Rubio drew fire from his GOP rivals for being perhaps a bit too chic for the campaign trail. Some speculated they were to make the 5-foot-10 senator appear taller. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called the boots "cute" and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC made a commercial mocking them. While Rubio initially called the focus on his footwear "craziness," he’s worked at thinking on his feet. At a Jan. 18 campaign event in Waverly, Iowa, a voter jokingly asked about the boots. Rubio declared his boots, appropriately outfitted with a Cuban heel, are a patriotic choice. "They sold out of those boots online," Rubio said. "They’re made in Wisconsin. Florsheim! You know what that means? That means I did more for American business in one week than Barack Obama did in seven years!" He’s right that Florsheim’s website says some sizes of their $135 Duke boots are out of stock, but they should be available by Feb. 1. A Florsheim spokesman told us sales of that style have "increased significantly" since Rubio was shown wearing them. As for the part about being made in Wisconsin, well, Rubio probably should have watched his step. Like all of the Glendale, Wis., company’s shoes, Rubio’s boots aren’t made in the United States. The company did recently collaborate with designer George Esquivel to create a luxury shoe line that is made in California, but Florsheim said their products are made in Asia, mostly from China. That trend goes back to the 1970s, when Florsheim’s then-owner, St. Louis-based International Shoe Co., moved production to India, where Rubio’s Duke boots were manufactured. The company also makes some items in Italy. Founded in 1892 in Chicago, Florsheim once had five U.S. factories and 2,500 employees by the 1920s. While at one time holding 70 percent of the men’s shoe market, the company eventually suffered from lackluster sales and a stodgy image, declaring bankruptcy in 2002. It was resurrected by Florsheim family scions through Weyco Group, the same company that distributes shoe brands like Nunn Bush and Stacy Adams (also foreign-made). No shoes are made at Weyco’s headquarters in suburban Milwaukee. It’s not really surprising that the American company’s boots are imports, as shoe manufacturing in the United States is on shaky footing these days. The American Apparel and Footwear Association said that domestic production has started to increase in recent years, but U.S. boot and shoe sales are still around 98 percent imports. Rubio’s campaign didn’t respond when we pointed out the boots were not made in America. There are still bootmakers in Wisconsin, however. Weinbrenner Shoe Company, for example, makes work boots in two central Wisconsin factories, and Allen Edmonds makes most of its high-end shoes and boots in Port Washington, about 20 miles north of Glendale. Our ruling Rubio said his much-discussed boots are "made in Wisconsin." His Florsheim ankle boots aren’t made in the Badger State, where the company is headquartered. Florsheim told us most of their products are made in China, but Rubio’s boots came from India. We have to put our foot down on this one. We rate Rubio’s statement Pants on Fire!

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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