Two of the candidates running uphill battles against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president next year blasted their party’s limited schedule of debates, which benefits the frontrunner.
The candidates will participate in six debates: four in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and two more in Florida and Wisconsin. Only four are likely to take place before the often pivotal Iowa caucuses and possibly the New Hampshire primary as well.
“The schedule they have proposed does not give voters – nationally, and especially in early states – ample opportunity to hear from the Democratic candidates for president,” said Bill Hyers, a senior strategist for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “If anything, it seems geared toward limiting debate and facilitating a coronation, not promoting a robust debate and primary process.”
Nevada will host the first debate, but the site has not yet been decided.
These six debates will not only give caucus goers and primary voters ample opportunity to hear from our candidates about their vision for our country’s future, they will highlight the clear contrast between the values of the Democratic Party...versus Republicans
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
O’Malley’s campaign, which held two calls with reporters on the issue and used social media to publicize its protest, said the DNC should remove itself from the process.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that all five candidates signed off on the schedule, the criteria to participate – at least 1 percent in three national polls – and a new policy that bars candidates from DNC debates if they attend other non-sanctioned debates.
O’Malley’s campaign said it spoke with the DNC several times, but never agreed.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the debate schedule. He did not say whether he signed off on the criteria, but said he wanted to work to expand the number of debates.
He had urged the DNC in a letter to hold a series of debates beginning this summer, including some with Republican candidates in states that do not generally elect Democrats. His campaign has collected signatures of those wanting earlier and more frequent debates.
“At a time when many Americans are demoralized about politics and have given up on the political process, I think it's imperative that we have as many debates as possible; certainly more than six,” said Sanders, an independent senator running for president under the Democratic banner. “I look forward to working with the DNC to see if we can significantly expand the proposed debate schedule.”
The smaller number of debates is designed to avoid some of the problems that occurred eight years ago when the calendar was viewed as excessive and too demanding. But fewer and later debates benefits Clinton, a former secretary of State, U.S. senator, first lady and one of the most prominent women in the world.
Clinton’s campaign wants to prevent her rivals from getting free attention and taking her on directly during nationally televised events.
“Hillary Clinton is looking forward to joining her fellow Democratic candidates in the upcoming DNC-sanctioned debates,” campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson said. “We believe these debates will be a great conversation around issues that matter to everyday Americans and the Democratic ideals for moving America forward.”
A handful of liberal groups, including CREDO and MoveOn.org, said Thursday the DNC should add more debates and drop the policy that bars candidates from DNC debates if they participate in similar non-sanctioned events.
With just four debates scheduled before the Iowa caucuses...the Democratic National Committee is standing in the way of substantive conversation about who should be the Democratic nominee for President
CREDO Action Political Director Becky Bond
But the remaining two Democratic candidates, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee, a former governor and senator from Rhode Island, had no problem with the schedule.
“Governor Chafee is looking forward to the debates,” his spokeswoman Debbie Rich said.
“We’ll be there,” Webb spokesman Craig Crawford said
At the White House, where President Barack Obama, has not endorsed a candidate, but has repeatedly praised his former secretary of State, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the schedule was adequate.
“I'm confident that six debates would give the candidates ample opportunity to make a direct presentation to the country and to Democratic voters across the country about what their values and priorities would be if they were elected president of the United States,” he said.
The debate locations and sponsors: Oct. 13 – CNN – Nevada Nov. 14 – CBS/KCCI/Des Moines Register – Des Moines, IA. Dec. 19 – ABC/WMUR – Manchester, N.H. Jan. 17 – NBC/Congressional Black Caucus Institute – Charleston, S.C. February or March – Univision/Washington Post – Miami, FL. February or March – PBS – Wisconsin
The Democrats’ timetable is far behind what it was during the 2008 election cycle. At this point in 2007, several Democratic debates already had taken place following the first encounter in South Carolina in April. More than two dozen eventually were held. Some activists and DNC members are worried about the late start.
Republican candidates will debate at least nine times in the 2016 election cycle. The Republican National Committee has left open the possibility of three more after that.
Lesley Clark contributed.