The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will host six presidential debates beginning this fall, the party announced Tuesday.
The campaign of front-runner Hillary Clinton said she will likely participate in all six debates. “Democrats will debate how to help families get ahead. Looking forward to a real conversation,” the former secretary of state said in a tweet Tuesday.
“She’s excited to debate and she’s onboard with the DNC’s plan," said a Clinton aide, who requested anonymity to speak about the candidate's plans.
Clinton is likely to face Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who announced his run as a Democrat last week. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee have both formed exploratory committees. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is also likely to run, though he has not formally announced his plans.
"If Governor O'Malley decides to run, we will expect a full, robust, and inclusive set of debates—both nationally and in early primary and caucus states," said spokesperson Lis Smith.
Chafee, meanwhile, “looks forward to participating in the debates,” spokesperson Debbie Rich told msnbc.
A spokesperson for Webb said the former senator has not decided. “We aren't focused on debates right now, haven't discussed them internally or externally,” Webb communications director Craig Crawford said in a email.
Sanders was tied up in Senate business Tuesday and unavailable to comment on debates, his office said.
Vice President Joe Biden is also eying a bid, and his aides have kept in contact with the DNC about the debate planning process. Sanders, an independent, had previously not been in contact with the DNC, but will likely do so now that he has said he intends to run as a Democrat.
The other potential candidates did not immediately announce their debate plans.
The local Democratic Party in the first four sates in the presidential nominating process -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- will each host a sanctioned debate in their state. The location of the other two remain to be seen.
Each debate will be also sponsored by major news outlets and civic organizations typically aligned with Democrats.
“We’ve always believed that we would have a competitive primary process, and that debates would be an important part of that process,” said DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress – no matter whom our nominee may be.”
Six is a major drop from 2008, when candidates participated in more than 20 debates.
With so many constituency groups in the Democratic coalition eager to sponsor debates, from labor unions to environmental groups to minority organizations to women’s rights groups to LGBT activists, the DNC worked to keep the number of debates manageable for candidates, the committee said.
The DNC is also requiring that candidates participate in no debates beyond this group of official events. O'Malley's campaign suggested disapproval with the requirement. “In a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors,” spokesperson Smith said.
During her first presidential run, Clinton stumbled in a November 2007 debate in New York when she gave a waffling answer to a question about giving drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. It was one of the first major signs of weakness of that campaign.