DNC pivots, sets three more presidential debates
By Evan Lips | February 3, 2016, 19:12 EDT
The Democratic National Committee reversed course Wednesday, confirming the addition of three more primary season presidential debates along with the one already added in Durham, New Hampshire.
DNC spokesman Luis Miranda retweeted a Washington Post report on the additions, noting one will take place March 6 in Flint, Michigan:
BREAKING: The DNC and Bernie Sanders confirm agreement on four new Dem debates, one in Flint: https://t.co/l6lFmiB4ei
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) Feb. 3, 2016
In September, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, told reporters at a Washington breakfast meeting hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that the party would have “six debates, period,” according to a Post report.
The party has already held four debates, and planned two more in Milwaukee and Miami. Critics inside the party like former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who suspended his presidential campaign following his dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses Monday, has previously accused Wasserman Schultz and other party officials of “rigging” the nomination process by limiting the number of debates.
Wednesday’s announcement means the two remaining Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, will have participated in 10 debates by the time the Democratic National Convention begins in late July.
The news came after Sanders staged a surprise comeback in Iowa, storming from behind to nearly defeat Clinton before ultimately losing by 0.3 percentage points. According to an average of major Iowa polls by RealClearPolitics.com, Clinton led Sanders by a margin of as much as 50 percentage points through much of the campaign leading up to the Iowa caucuses, with Sanders briefly pulling into a tie just three times, most recently late last week. By Monday, with the caucuses set for that evening, he trailed by 4 percentage points.
With New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary just days away, the RealClearPolitics rolling average shows the Brooklyn-born Vermonter leading Clinton by more than 17 points, at 55.5 percent to 38 percent.
In June, Sanders wrote to Wasserman Schultz to request more debates. The party chief repeatedly insisted the number would be kept to six, adding that any candidates who participated in debates that weren’t sanctioned by the DNC would be barred from those held by the party.
With the Iowa results in and Sanders looking invincible in New Hampshire, the party’s position changed.
Late last month, the liberal DailyKos.com website hosted a petition calling for Wasserman Schultz’s resignation over “pursuing her own agenda” and her decision to “schedule the smallest number of debates possible.”
The petition’s goal is to get 200,000 signatures. As of late Wednesday, it had more than 167,000.
On Sunday, Wasserman Schultz issued a statement indicating that Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders “agreed in principle to having the DNC sanction and manage additional debates.” The move equated to a significant about-face, as just days earlier she had issued a statement declaring that the party had “no plans to sanction any further debates.”
As recently as Jan. 26, Wasserman Schultz appeared to “throw cold water” on cable network MSNBC’s request to host a proposed Feb. 4 debate, according to a report on TheHill.com, a news organization that covers the Capitol. TheHill also reported Tuesday that the Sanders campaign only agreed to the Durham debate set for Thursday on the condition that the party would add more to the schedule.
Clinton requested the Flint location for the March 6 debate, according to the Post. The city has been beset by lead-tainted water that poisoned residents for years before the contamination was discovered. The Post said the other two additions would take place in Pennsylvania in April and California in May. The DNC lists locations and exact dates for added future debates in May and June as “TBA.”
The two remaining events from the original schedule, slated for Feb. 11 in Milwaukee and March 9 in Miami, are also listed.
The wildcard lurking in the background is the nascent independent candidacy of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who served as Navy Secretary under President Ronald Reagan. Webb originally entered the race as a Democrat and participated in the party’s first debate, held in Las Vegas in October. But he left the Nevada city with harsh words for party leaders, echoing O’Malley’s claim that the nomination process was “rigged.”
“I’m going to be very frank, it was rigged in terms of who was going to get the time on the floor by the way that Anderson Cooper was selecting people to supposedly respond to something someone else said,” Webb said about the event, hosted by CNN, the cable news network.
While Webb formally suspended his campaign on the eve of the second debate, last month he confirmed the hiring of Sam Jones to help with fundraising for a “potential independent presidential candidacy.” Jones had been finance director of a group trying to get Vice President Joe Biden to run for the Democratic nomination.
Webb prompted more speculation about an independent bid when he remarked on Jone in a Jan. 30 Facebook post. It came in response to a barrage of messages from supporters urging him to run.
“Sen. Webb and his campaign staff are engaging with many stakeholders every day, examining every obstacle he’d need to overcome in an independent bid,” the post says. “The campaign this month hired Sam Jones to lead fundraising operations for the potential independent presidential candidacy.”