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Washington - It appears Mitt Romney is too busy running for president of the United States to talk about the most embarrassing moment in his life. Or to reveal how he copes with a broken heart.
Producers of a unique children's news special that enables young Americans to question the presidential candidates had given the Republican contender until the last minute to take part in Monday's programme.
“Alas, they never came back to us,” said veteran television journalist Linda Ellerbee, host of Kids Pick The President: The Candidates on the Nickelodeon children's cable channel.
“I don't know if it's a bad thing for the Romney campaign - but it is a bad thing for the Nickelodeon audience,” she told AFP. “The point of our show is not about who wins. It's about engaging kids in the democratic process early.”
President Barack Obama thus has the field to himself to directly respond to a raft of questions from Americans aged 10 to 18 on issues as diverse as jobs, gun control, same-sex marriage, bullying - and heartbreak.
“That happened to me,” confessed the most powerful man in the United States when the topic popped up on a short list of kids' questions that Ellerbee put to him on their behalf at the White House last month.
“I think the main thing you learn is that life goes on,” he added.
And what about his most embarrassing moment? “Running into the wall is par for the course for me,” he replied, according to excerpts released prior to broadcast. “I'm running into doors and desks all the time.”
Kids Pick the President premieres a day before Obama, who has two young daughters, and Romney, whose five children are now adults, face off in their second of three prime-time debates ahead of the November 6 election.
In the interests of equal time, the production team at Ellerbee's weekly Nick News current affairs show sifted through hours of Romney sound bites, looking for the ones that best responded to young America's questions.
“We want to be fair, but it's not equal,” she lamented. “We have no news clip of Romney answering a very kid-like question.”
Following Monday's broadcast, Nickelodeon viewers can vote online for their favourite candidate in an Internet straw poll that has - uncannily - forecast the real winner in five of the last six presidential elections.
The results will be out October 22, but Ellerbee - a former US network news correspondent who launched Nick News in 1991 - says “the point of the exercise is not who they (young viewers) vote for”.
“Politics affects everyone, which means kids' lives are changed by the acts of politicians,” she said in a telephone interview from New York.
“We sit around and bemoan the shrinking number of voters, but we should celebrate any interest on the part of a young person in the process of democracy.”
Ellerbee said her production team fans out across the United States to ask children and teenagers what they'd like to ask the presidential candidates, taking care in the process to get the right balance in terms of geography, race, ethnicity and gender.
The results are then whittled down to a short-list of questions for the 22-minute broadcast.
While education is a consistently popular topic “for very obvious reasons”, Ellerbee has seen taxation and the national debt coming to the fore in recent years, along with the government's role in combating bullying.
“The real change has not been in the issues, but in their awareness of them,” she said. “With kids today, it's not like they don't know what's going on, especially with the Internet.” - Sapa-AFP