U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, July 17, 2015.
Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

Sanders and O’Malley blast DNC over debate schedule


Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders are not happy with the Democratic National Committee after it announced its schedule for the six presidential debates the party will host between this fall and early next year. The DNC announced in May that it would hold only six debates, a decision the underdog candidates have been protesting for months. 

On Thursday, the DNC released new details about the plans for its six debates. CNN will host the first debate, slated for October 13 in Nevada, one of the four early nominating states. Next up, CBS News, The Des Moines Register, and KCCI will team up to host a debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 14. That will be followed by an ABC News/WMUR hosted debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, on December 19.

Related: Martin O’Malley: DNC trying to ‘circle the wagons’ around Clinton

NBC News will host the final sanctioned debate before the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for January 17 in Charleston, South Carolina, another early state. The event will be co-sponsored by Congressional Black Caucus Institute. Following the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, Univision and The Washington Post will host a debate in Miami, Florida, sometime in February or March. And PBS will host one in Wisconsin during those two months as well.

The Democratic State Parties in each state will serve as co-hosts for debates in their states as well. 

“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 which is focused on strengthening the middle class versus Republicans,” said DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Schultz said candidates have to reach at least 1% in three national polls in the six weeks leading up to a debate, which could be a challenge for former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has failed to reach that threshold in some polls, and possibly other candidates as well. 

The debates process has been controversial since the DNC announced several months ago that it would sanction only six debates, down from the roughly two dozen held in 2008. And the party will penalize candidates who participate in unsanctioned events. Underdogs O’Malley and Sanders want more chances to face off against Hillary Clinton.

“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.”
While the number of debates has been known for months, O’Malley’s campaign used Thursday’s announcement as an opportunity to go to war with the DNC over debates. 

The former Maryland governor’s campaign sent a statement to reporters in which O’Malley said the schedule “seems geared toward limiting debate and facilitating a coronation.” The campaign also blasted out an email to supporters with the subject line, “are you kidding me?”; it encouraged fans to tweet at the DNC — “let’s tell them we’re fed up”; and O’Malley himself tweeted that the DNC should keep their “hands off our debates!” Later Thursday, the campaign will hold a conference call with reporters to further scold the national party. 

Sanders, meanwhile, said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the debate 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. I look forward to working with the DNC to see if we can significantly expand the proposed debate schedule,” he said. 

Sanders supporters on Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet launched a campaign Wednesday to pressure the DNC to increase the number of debates. The campaign encouraged supporters to call the DNC and generated almost 21,000 tweets, according to an internal spreadsheet shared with msnbc. 

So far, however, the DNC has shown no sign of changing its plans. 

This article has been updated.