By Lauren Leamanczyk, WBZ-TV's New Hampshire Bureau Chief

CONCORD, N.H. (CBS) – Instead of glossy TV sets and candidates at podiums, the debate in a Concord, New Hampshire conference room had laptops and hash tags. The organizers of the first GOP Twitter debate think it can change politics.

“I believe Twitter plays a very significant role in this presidential election and these candidates are validating that,” said Andrew Hemmingway, a New Hampshire social media consultant and political activist who organized the debate.

Six presidential candidates signed on to participate in the debate which was sponsored by Tea They included Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Gov. Gary Johnson, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and former Sen. Rick Santorum.

WBZ-TV’s Lauren Leamanczyk reports

Moderator SE Cupp fired off questions from her laptop and the candidates engaged in real time. They had five minutes to debate each topic. Twitter posts can only be 140 characters, but candidates could send multiple tweets.

“I think there’s going to be pressure to get out interesting answers,” Cupp said. “You can’t be vague on Twitter. You have to be pretty precise and you have to answer the question.”

Those questions came from the thousands of people following the debate at @140townhall. They are connected online and politically involved. And that’s why Hemmingway thinks Twitter is so powerful. He says candidates ignore the tool at their own peril.

“There’s no way that a candidate today will be elected today ignoring social media. There’s no way. How can you ignore the 200 million people on Twitter? How can you ignore the 400 million people using Facebook?”


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