Is the Democratic National Committee dodging debates between its candidates this year?
In May, the DNC announced its plans to hold six primary debates which would be in “the fall of 2015.” Yet as the Republican candidates prepare to square off, there is pointed silence from the 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 Debbie Wasserman Schultz during the springtime announcement of the half-dozen events. “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.”
In a lead story on the Drudge Report Sunday night, her promise has vanished as Democrats dodge a candidate showdown.
While the first Republican presidential debate this week in Ohio stirs media frenzy, the Democrats are reduced to “vague chatter” about a forum in Iowa within the “next few months.” Much of this elusiveness may revolve around Hillary Clinton’s lengthy and growing list of scandals plaguing the Democrat’s top contender.
The yawning debate silence is in contrast to the 2008 presidential primaries, when the Democratic Party scheduled a total of 26 debates between candidates. With George W. Bush unable to run for a third term, the stakes were high for the Democrats.
The stakes are just as high this upcoming election, in large part because President Obama cannot run for a third term. By this point in 2007, five debates had already taken place. Yet this year, the first Democratic debate has yet to be scheduled.
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Wasserman Schultz said the Democratic presidential candidates must meet certain “threshold” requirements to participate in the six as-yet unscheduled primary debates, but she did not specify which criteria will be used to determine who qualifies.
“It’ll be a threshold that’ll be expansive and allows for the maximum inclusion of our major party candidates,” Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC’s Ari Melber. She said the DNC hasn’t “quite finished formulating the details” for the debates, including specific dates, locations and media sponsors.
As the Huffington Post reports, “The lack of clarity has been frustrating to both campaigns and major TV networks, the latter of which produce the debates and need to book venues and handle logistical details well in advance.”
A statement announcing the debates explained, “While a six sanctioned debate schedule is consistent with the precedent set by the DNC during the 2004 and 2008 cycles, this year the DNC will further manage the process by implementing an exclusivity requirement. Any candidate or debate sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process. Any violation would result in forfeiture of the ability to participate in the remainder of the debate process.”
Speculation for the delay is running high. Part of the issue is the Democratic lineup is still jockeying for position. Hillary Clinton had no serious challenge until Bernie Sanders entered the race at a relatively late date, and quickly overtook the other contenders – Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley – as the most serious candidate after Clinton.
Sanders is pressuring Wasserman Schultz to accelerate the schedule. The national media exposure resulting from debates will likely benefit him more than anyone else except Clinton, who presumably has the most to lose by getting on the debate stage.
One Democratic 2016 campaign adviser, speaking anonymously to Business Insider, said they believe the Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule was “worked out” to benefit Hillary Clinton and hurt her opponents. They also suggested the relatively late schedule of the debates will make it harder for Clinton’s lesser known opponents to introduce themselves to voters.
Justin Lane at Ring of Fire believes Sanders’ rising popularity and Clinton’s falling numbers may be part of the issue.
“Is this what the DNC is afraid of?” he asks. “For that matter, is this what the mainstream corporate media is afraid of? It’s becoming obvious that the corporate Democratic establishment doesn’t want Sanders’ voice publicly challenging Clinton in a head-to-head debate. Furthermore, it’s a good bet that the DNC is putting off scheduling the debates because corporate media giants are equally afraid of Sanders.”
Lane suggests it’s time for the DNC to “fish or cut bait” and to bypass the old-fashioned media of television and newspaper, and instead bring the debates to social media and the web. “If social media groups step up to the plate and offer to sponsor the debates, the DNC will have to act,” he concludes.
It remains to be seen whether the DNC takes his advice.