Democrats will stick to six official presidential debates, the party’s chairwoman said Thursday, despite growing calls from inside the party for more.
“We’re going to have six debates. Period. We’re not changing the process,” said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chairman, at a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak Tuesday had added their names to those calling on the party to schedule more presidential debates.
The party’s presidential candidates have been willing to debate more, but Wasserman Schultz insisted that too many debates would be a distraction. And, she said, there are plenty of joint appearances sponsored by other organizations.
“There are many venues and forums for candidates to interact with voters,” she said.
Debates, Wasserman Schultz contended, are “labor intensive,” and therefore take time candidates can be using for other initiatives. With five major Democratic candidates, she said, six debates seems reasonable.
Republicans plan nine official debates. The first was held in Cleveland last month and the next is scheduled Wednesday in Simi Valley, California.
Republicans made their plans in January. Democrats didn’t announce a scheduled until August, stoking criticism that the party was eager to help front-runner Hillary Clinton. The first Democratic debate will be held at Las Vegas’ Wynn Hotel November 13.
The decision “limits the ability of the American people to benefit from a strong, transparent, vigorous debate between our Presidential candidates, as they make the important decision of who will be our Democratic presidential nominee,” Rybak and Gabbard wrote in a Facebook posting.
The two are asking the DNC for “several more debates” and to scrap the proposed sanctions against candidates who choose to participate in non-DNC sanctioned debates.
“We are the party that represents democratic principles, openness and transparency, and ensuring that all people, regardless of who they are or where they are from, have a level playing field and equal opportunity,” Rybak wrote. “By limiting Democratic debates to just six, more people will feel excluded from our political process, rather than included.”
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.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s been far behind in Democratic polls, has been vocal in calling for more debates.
“It’s bad for the country and it’s political malpractice for our party,” he said Thursday on MSNBC. “It would be unprecedented for us to tell Iowa, ‘you can only have one debate before the caucuses’ or tell New Hampshire, ‘you can only have one debate, and by the way, it has to be on a Saturday at the peak of shopping season so no one can watch it.’ ”
“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.
Wasserman Schultz said she consulted with past chairmen before making the debate decision.
“This was a decision that I reached that, absolutely, I consulted and communicated with many people, including our officers, and decided that this was the best way to approach it,” she said.