Democrats get set to announce their debate details

Fewer and later debates benefit Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner, who wants to prevent her rivals from getting free attention and taking her on directly during nationally televised events.
Fewer and later debates benefit Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner, who wants to prevent her rivals from getting free attention and taking her on directly during nationally televised events. AP

As Republican presidential candidates gather to answer questions on the same stage Thursday, Democrats will finally reveal long-awaited details for their own candidates’ 2016 debates.

The Democratic National Committee is expected to announce within days the dates and locations for six presidential debates, several party leaders told McClatchy.

Of the six sanctioned events, one each will be held in the four early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The first will take place this fall.

The Democrats’ timetable is far behind what it was during the 2008 election cycle. At this point in 2007, several Democratic debates already had taken place following the first encounter in South Carolina in April. More than two dozen eventually were held.

Gilda Cobb Hunter, a South Carolina legislator and a DNC member, said she would like to see more debates, and would like to see them start as soon as possible. “I think it’s getting kind of late,” she said.

Andy McGuire, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, whose state will be hosting one of the debates, said she has not heard any details from the DNC, which will determine the date and location.

Candidates are constantly campaigning in Iowa, but she said Democrats there are ready to see how they interact in a debate. “I think everyone wants to see them talking about the same things on the same stage,” she said.

The smaller number of debates is designed to avoid some of the problems that occurred eight years ago when the calendar was viewed as excessive and too demanding.

But fewer and later debates benefit former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner, who wants to prevent her rivals from getting free attention and taking her on directly during nationally televised events.

Some of Clinton’s four opponents, as well as a handful of liberal groups, have called for the DNC to add more debates and drop a new policy that bars candidates from DNC debates if they participate in other non-sanctioned debates.

On April 12, 2015 former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her run for President of the United States. Find out where the democratic candidate stands on immigration, ISIS, the minimum wage and gay marriage. Video by Natalie

"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…I think they’re gonna have another thing coming when they talk to the people of Iowa,” former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Wednesday. “Because these are the issues about which we need to have not just one debate, not just two, but many debates. Because those debates will shape the future of the country we give our kids. Don’t you agree?”

The DNC has consulted with each of the Democratic campaigns. All five declined to talk about those discussions or even what format or criteria they have sought.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders urged the DNC in a letter to hold a series of debates beginning this summer, including some with Republican candidates in states that do not generally elect Democrats. His campaign has collected signatures of those wanting earlier and more frequent debates.

“The people of this country are tired of political gossip, personal attacks and ugly 30-second ads,” Sanders said in an email asking supporters to sign a petition. “They want the candidates to engage in serious discussions about the very serious issues facing our country today.”

CREDO, a progressive group not backing any candidate, also is urging Americans to sign a petition asking for more debates.

“Don’t restrict Democratic candidates’ primary debates,” the petition reads. “A meaningful primary requires a serious discussion of issues among the candidates themselves. Either add more debates starting this summer, or don’t bar candidates from participating in additional forums.”

In early May, the DNC announced it would hold six debates beginning this fall. Since then, the party has released little information. Spokeswoman Holly Shulman said this week she hopes to have information soon.

The party has not yet announced the qualification criteria for selection and inclusion of participants in those debates. But DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, has said that candidates will have to meet a certain “threshold” to participate in the debates, though she did not specify what criteria, such as polling, would be used.

Clinton leads Sanders; O'Malley; former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia; and Lincoln Chafee, former governor and senator from Rhode Island, in the polls.

Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said he is comfortable with the schedule considering most Americans will not pay attention until early next year. “It'll be fine,” he said.

Republican candidates will debate at least nine times in the 2016 election cycle, starting Thursday. The Republican National Committee has left open the possibility of three more after that.

Each of the six DNC-sanctioned debates will be sponsored by a combination of state Democratic parties, national broadcast media, digital platforms, local media and civic organizations.

“Debates give voters a chance to hear a candidate’s message and vision for our country’s future,” said New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley.