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Pizza chain opens up US debate challenge

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. pizza chain has been forced to tweak a “free pizza for life” contest after coming under fire for daring the crowd at a debate to ask Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to reveal their favorite topping.

Pizza Hut hoped for free publicity when it promised one large pizza a week for 30 years to anyone who asked the presidential rivals, during Tuesday's televised debate, whether they prefer sausage or pepperoni on their pizza.

But, following criticism it was interfering in the democratic process, the firm opened the contest to all users of the website of its mock Pizza Party, which will randomly choose one voter and reward them with a lifetime of pizza.

“The anticipation and buzz around this question proves that this debate should be taken to the people,” said chief marketing officer Kurt Kane.

“We're no longer asking a few hundred attendees at the town hall presidential debate ... to pose the question. Rather, we're bringing the question — sausage or pepperoni? — to millions of Americans.”

Free pizza is among several promotional stunts planned in the run-up to the Nov. 6 elections, the USA Today newspaper has reported.

Others include free JetBlue flights out of the United States for voters whose preferred candidate loses the election and an eBay auction of Obama and Romney effigies organized by the makers of Cabbage Patch dolls.

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