By Laura Meckler for The Wall Street Journal
The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that it will sponsor four presidential debates before the first voters cast ballots to determine the party’s nominee, and two more early in 2016. Like with the Republicans, that is significantly fewer than the number staged in the 2007-08 race.
Front-runner Hillary Clinton, who likely has the most to lose in debates, welcomed the schedule, while challengers Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator, complained.
The first debate will be Oct. 13 in Nevada, sponsored by CNN, the DNC said. It will be followed by debates in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 14; in Manchester, N.H., on Dec. 19; and in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 17. Those four states are the first to host nominating contests.
The Iowa caucuses are on Feb. 1. The DNC said there would be additional debates in Florida and in Wisconsin in February or March, for a total of six
The schedule allows for one debate in each of the first four states to vote, as well as one debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and one by Univision, a Spanish-language network.
The DNC had already announced that it would sponsor six debates, but the details of when and where are new. Candidates who participate in unsanctioned debates will be barred from the official debates.
Like the DNC, the Republican National Committee is also working to control the debate process. The RNC has sanctioned nine official debates, starting Thursday night 8/6 in Cleveland.
Mr. O’Malley, who is mired far behind in the polls, protested the loudest and encouraged his supporters to tweet their complaints. His campaign charged that limiting the number of debates was aimed at “facilitating a coronation.”
“By inserting themselves into the debate process, the DNC has ironically made it less democratic,” Bill Hyers, Mr. O’Malley’s senior strategist, said in a statement. “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.”
He added that the schedule gives the appearance of “rigging the process and cutting off debate,” and suggested that the DNC remove itself from the process altogether and allow news organizations and others to create their own debates and allow candidates to participate in them.
Mr. Sanders said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” and hoped to expand the schedule. “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,” he said in a statement.
The Clinton campaign seemed fine with it. “We believe these debates will be a great conversation around issues that matter to everyday Americans and the Democratic ideals for moving America forward,” said spokesman Jesse Ferguson. His statement did not address the question of whether there are enough debates planned.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton’s senior strategist and pollster, Joel Benenson, said Mrs. Clinton is looking forward to participating in debates. “She prides herself in doing very well in debates,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to get attention on issues that are front and center in the lives of Americans.”
The DNC said the full schedule, along with sponsors for each debate, would be:
- 13, CNN, in Nevada
- 14, CBS/KCCI/Des Moines Register, in Des Moines
- 19, ABC/WMUR in Manchester, N.H.
- 17, NBC/Congressional Black Caucus Institute, in Charleston, S.C.
- February or March, Univision/Washington Post, Miami, Fla.
- February or March, PBS, Wisconsin
Source: Wall Street Journal