LOS ANGELES – Mitt Romney may want to reconsider his campaign strategy involving the pint-size voters of tomorrow.
The Republican presidential candidate skipped the chance to take part in Nickelodeon’s “Kids Pick the President” special that includes President Barack Obama, said Linda Ellerbee, the show’s host and executive producer. The decision “disses” children, she said.
During last week’s presidential debate, Romney vowed to cut federal funding for PBS while acknowledging it’s the home of popular “Sesame Street” character Big Bird.
“Kids Pick the President: The Candidates,” with videotaped questions for the candidates from youngsters nationwide, debuts Oct. 15 on the children’s channel. Afterward, an online poll asks kids to make their pick.
Romney’s campaign said “he simply didn’t have time. He couldn’t fit it in his schedule,” Ellerbee said Monday.
His decision is disappointing because “answering kids’ questions directly shows respect for the several million kids who will vote in Nickelodeon’s ‘Kids Pick the President’ campaign,” she said.
“That’s several million kids who actually want to get involved in the democratic process,” Ellerbee said. “They don’t deserve to be dissed. But former Gov. Romney also blew off Letterman and Big Bird, so I guess we’re in good company.”
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment.
Since 1992, when Nickelodeon began airing the Q&As, only two other candidates have declined to take part, Ellerbee said: Democratic contender John Kerry said no in 2004, which prompted President George W. Bush to withdraw. Bush participated in 2000.
The online kids’ polling has gotten the outcome right five out of six times, including Bush’s re-election in 2004, Ellerbee said. Democratic contender Al Gore was the children’s pick in 2000.
“It’s not always that Democrats win” the poll, she said. “It’s not that we’re some left-wing show and that’s the only kids that watch us.”
Nickelodeon has been in touch with Romney’s representatives since April and they had been “encouraging” about prospects for the former Massachusetts governor’s involvement, Ellerbee said.
The candidate has until Monday to reverse his decision, she said.
An Obama campaign spokesman jumped on Romney’s decision when asked for comment, saying, “It’s no surprise Romney decided to play hooky” and jabbing at the GOP candidate over education and PBS funding.
“Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, ‘The dog ate my homework’ just doesn’t cut it when you’re running for president,” spokesman Adam Fetcher said in a statement.
For the special, Obama fielded questions regarding gun control, jobs, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage and bullying. He also was asked about his most embarrassing moment, Nickelodeon said.
“Running into the wall is par for the course for me,” the president replied. “I’m running into doors and desks all the time.”