Hillary Clinton, facing an increasingly tight race for the Democratic nomination, pushed her chief rival, Bernie Sanders, to participate in an additional debate next week before the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.
“I’m ready for the debate and I hope Senator Sanders will change his mind and join us,” Clinton said Wednesday on MSNBC. “And I think the DNC and the campaign should be able to work this out. I’ve said for, you know, for a long time that I’d be happy to have more debates. And I hope we can get this done.”
Clinton’s rivals, Sanders and Martin O’Malley, have long accused the Democratic National Committee of trying to help Clinton, the front-runner, when creating a schedule that called for later and less frequent debates.
But now that polls show Clinton may lose New Hampshire, and possibly Iowa, to Sanders, she is eager to have an additional platform to make her case in the final days, while Sanders appears not want to risk losing his momentum.
Sanders did not answer questions about the issue after a meeting Wednesday with President Barack Obama at the White House. His spokesman Michael Briggs said the campaign will be working with the DNC and the other campaigns to schedule additional debates but he declined to answer other questions.
But late Wednesday, his campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Sanders would ask the DNC to allow the debate next week if Clinton would agree to three additional debates in March, April and May.
NBC News and the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper on Tuesday invited Democratic candidates to participate in an unsanctioned presidential debate Feb. 4 in New Hampshire.
Martin O’Malley, who is running a distant third in the race, immediately agreed. “In keeping with the best traditions of the New Hampshire primary, we have always believed that the voters of the Granite State deserve more than one opportunity to see their candidates for president debate side by side,” said John Bivona, O’Malley’s New Hampshire state director.
Clinton told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Wednesday that she wants Sanders and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to agree to the debate in New Hampshire.
“What I’ve said to my campaign is that I would look forward to another debate,” she said. “I am, you know, anxious, if we can get something set up, to be able to be there. And so let’s try to make it happen.”
Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said earlier this week that Clinton would participate if the other candidates agree, allowing the party to sanction the debate. But the DNC did not say it would sanction it even if the three agreed.
The DNC had said any candidates who participated in non-sanctioned debates would not be invited to the official six. Four debates have been conducted, but the next one doesn’t come until Feb. 11 in Wisconsin.
Late Tuesday, Wasserman Schultz said the proposed debate would not be sanctioned. “We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming first-in-the-nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule,” she said.
Some New Hampshire Democrats have been urging candidates to schedule another debate before the primary.
“We are grateful that the Union Leader and NBC have heard the voices of New Hampshire voters who have advocated loud and clear for a final debate since the summer,” the group New Hampshire Debates wrote in a letter to candidates. “Our historic first-in-the-nation primary will benefit immensely from a final, prime-time reckoning between the three candidates.”
For 32 years, there has been a Democratic debate after the Iowa caucuses, this year set for Feb. 1, and before the New Hampshire primary, the letter says.
Many complaints have been lodged at the DNC about the debate schedule, which included debates the Saturday before Christmas and the Sunday of a three-day weekend.
Since November, 145,940 people have signed Democracy for America petitions demanding the DNC hold more presidential debates.
“We strongly encourage every Democratic candidate to leap at the opportunity to add an additional debate to the absurdly limited official DNC schedule and work to find other opportunities to make the presidential contest the fierce competition of progressive ideas that Democrats deserve,” DFA Executive Director Charles Chamberlain said.
Wasserman Schultz said the debates have far exceeded the viewership of debates in past competitive primaries.
“We have consistently worked with our campaigns to ensure a schedule that is robust and that allows them to engage with voters in a variety of ways, whether through debates, forums, town halls, but also leaving them the flexibility to attend county fairs and living room conversations in states like Iowa and New Hampshire where direct voter contact matters so much,” she said.
The three Democrats are scheduled to appear on the same stage next week for the New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner Feb. 5.