Unsanctioned Democratic debate proposed for next week in NH

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a stop at the United Steelworkers Local 310L union hall, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a stop at the United Steelworkers Local 310L union hall, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. AP

NBC News and the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper on Tuesday invited Democratic candidates to participate in an unsanctioned presidential debate next week in New Hampshire.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is running a distant third in the race, has agreed to participate. Hillary Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said Clinton would participate in the debate if the other candidates agree, allowing the party to sanction the debate. Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not immediately respond to questions.

“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. “That’s why Gov. O’Malley was the only Democratic candidate for president to consistently call out the DNC for its unprecedented role in silencing debate, and to lead the charge for more debates.”

The Democratic National Committee 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 DNC debate doesn’t come until Feb. 11.

Late Tuesday, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the 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.

The three candidates are scheduled to appear on the same stage next week for the New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner Feb. 5.

The new debate is proposed for Feb. 4, five days before the New Hampshire primary. The moderators would be NBC News’ Chuck Todd and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

“Our readers have demanded a debate to help them see who is most fit to be the Democratic nominee for president.” said Joseph W. McQuaid, president and publisher of the Union Leader. “We were always concerned that this would have been the first time in 32 years without a Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary. We are glad to partner with MSNBC to ensure Granite Staters have the information they need to make a critical decision on Feb. 9.”

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. “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 for the debate schedule, which included debates the Saturday before Christmas and the Sunday of a three-day weekend.

Since November, 145,940 have signed Democracy for America petitions, including one by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, 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 NBC Democratic primary debate on January 17 was co-sponsored by YouTube, and featured questions on policing, internet privacy and more from YouTube stars Franchesca Ramsey, Connor Franta and Marques Brownlee. Hear how the candidates responded.