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Martin O'Malley: DNC trying to 'circle the wagons' around Clinton

The long-shot Democratic challenger wants more chances to face off against Clinton on the debate stage.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley suggested Wednesday that the Democratic Party is trying to “circle the wagons” around Hillary Clinton by limiting the number of debates between the party’s candidates.

The Democratic National Committee has arranged for six official debates, and will penalize candidates who participate in unsanctioned events. But O’Malley, who has been stuck in the single digits in most polls, wants more chances to face off against Clinton.

"I want to say right off the bat here, that to those in Washington who think they can limit the number of debates that we're going to have before the Iowa caucuses, can circle the wagons and close off debates, I think they're gonna have another thing coming,” O’Malley said while campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in a video sent to reporters by his campaign.

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Speaking with The Hill newspaper between campaign stops, O'Malley said he personally raised the issue with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz last weekend and said the party is "all about trying to pre-ordain the outcome." “If they could actually accelerate the date of the Iowa caucuses and hold them tomorrow — they'd like to do that. Then there'd be no campaign at all. That's what they'd really like," he continued, calling it "undemocratic." 

O’Malley was clearly thinking of Clinton, who, as the party’s prohibitive front-runner, would prefer to participate in fewer debates, and thus have fewer chances to upset the status quo.

Both the Democratic and Republican Party typically remain neutral in the their respective nominating contests, and it’s not uncommon for candidates to try to work the refs.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is within striking distance of Clinton in some states, asked supporters to sign a petition on his website calling for the DNC to allow more debates. Allies of both candidates candidates have quietly accused the DNC of carrying water for Clinton, but O’Malley’s comments in Iowa Wednesday werre his strongest yet.

Still, so far, the challengers don’t seem to have mustered much pressure on the DNC.

“We’re thrilled to hear that Governor O’Malley is eager to participate in our debates. We believe that six debates will give plenty of opportunity for the candidates to be seen side-by-side. I’m sure there will be lots of other forums for the candidates to make their case to voters, and that they will make the most out of every opportunity,” said DNC Press Secretary Holly Shulman via email.