Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.

WASHINGTON – Several Democrat candidates for president are complaining that their party is protecting Hillary Clinton from scrutiny by limiting the number of debates this election season.

The GOP has scheduled eight debates, with three pending, for its candidates, making a total of 11.

The Democrats plan just six debates, with the first one not scheduled until October.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., told CNN on Sunday: “I think that that is dead wrong and I have let the leadership of the Democrats know that.”

On Friday, candidate Gov. Martin O’Malley, R-Md., went so far as to accuse the Democratic Party of devising a “rigged process.”

On MSNBC Monday morning, veteran liberal commentator Al Hunt agreed with O’Malley’s assessment that Democrats were limiting the debates to protect Clinton, but he said the party had even bigger problems.

“Yeah, sure they are. I think, by the way, that O’Malley exaggerates the importance,” Hunt said. “The problem the Democrats have is they ought to have a Reince Priebus type as their chair person. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a member of Congress, isn’t doing anything the Democrats need to do organizationally, and she’s not an effective chairperson. The debates are a secondary issue.”

Sanders wouldn’t go as far as O’Malley, saying, “I think that rigging is a strong word.” But, he added, “I would like to see more debates.”

He had previously told CBS, “We need serious debate about serious issues. There are so many major problems facing our country. I think more debates is better.”

What do YOU think? Is the fix still in for Hillary? Sound off in today’s WND poll

Talk about the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, protecting Clinton has begun circling Washington in the last few weeks.

On Aug. 18, liberal commentator Kirsten Powers wrote in USA today, “[P]arty insiders are making sure their preferred candidate – Hillary Clinton – is protected from debate.

She cited O’Malley, who had told the Hill, “It’s all about trying to preordain the outcome, circle the wagons and close off debate. If (the Democratic Party leaders) 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.”

Powers cited a Bloomberg poll in April that found nearly three-quarters of Democrats (and independents) said a “serious” challenger to Clinton would be good for the party.

“Instead,” wrote Powers, “we have party officials and a Democratic front-runner who believe they have the right to stack the decks in favor of their desired outcome.”

Powers called it a “scheme by Clinton’s DNC cronies” that was “poised to backfire.”

“Her arrogant and secretive email server shenanigans are reminding Americans just how entitled and unaccountable Clinton believes herself to be. Refusing to debate her primary opponents – including one who has ignited the kind of excitement Clinton could only dream of – will just fuel the sense that she believes she doesn’t have to campaign to become president.”

Powers concluded by calling Clinton, “a terrible candidate who needs sharpening before battling the GOP nominee.”

Even back in May, the leftist website Salon ran an article titled, “Democrats’ ‘protect Hillary’ plan: How the DNC’s thin debate schedule hands Clinton the advantage.”

Describing the Democratic National Committee as an “informal adjunct of the Hillary Clinton campaign,” Jim Newell, wrote:

“For all the public comments the DNC will issue about how it’s hoping for an open, competitive, democratic nomination process, its job is to protect Hillary Clinton from being unduly tarnished ahead of the general election. I write none of this with malice. It’s just the way things are! And given the way things are, if, say, Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money or even took the nomination, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz would have a heart attack.”

Clinton, the former secretary of state and current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has had a rocky campaign. Now she has even more reason to worry.

She has faced surprisingly strong competition from Sanders, an avowed socialist who now trails Clinton in the first primary state of Iowa by just seven points.

Clinton has lost a third of her support in Iowa since May.

Vice President Joe Biden is now considering entering the race.

Clinton is also under investigation by the FBI for the use of a private email server as secretary of state, which contained emails with classified information, contrary to her denials.

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