Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz took to the stage on the last day of the Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair to deliver a rah rah speech to Democrats and was greeted by protestors in the crowd holding signs demanding a more robust debate schedule. At present there are 6 sanctioned debates that will take place prior to the primaries, only 3 of which will occur prior to the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In 2007, the number of pre-primary debates was 26, allowing Democrats to get a full hearing from the people in the Party running for the highest office in the nation. 6 of those debates were sanctioned by the DNC. So, according to Wasserman Schultz, nothing has changed.
Except it has. This time around, there is a new rule and it states that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate will not be able to participate in any of the 6 that are sanctioned by the DNC.
Signs held by members of the audience at the Iowa State Fair made clear what many have been saying: Wasserman Schultz is greasing the path of Hilary Clinton by limiting the exposure of the other candidates.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been very vocal in his exhortation for Wasserman Schultz to add more debates to the schedule. He’s been talking about it almost since the moment he declared his candidacy. During an appearance on Face the Nation earlier this month, Sanders said he’s not satisfied with the debate schedule.
At a time when so many people in our country are giving up on the political process and the turnout is so low, when public consciousness about government is not high, I would like to see us be debating all over this country. I’d like to see the DNC have more debates. I would like to see labor union groups. I would like to see environmental groups, women’s groups, gay groups…different constituencies, host events and have us debate. So I believe the more debates, the better.
When asked if he thought the DNC was “putting a thumb on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton,” Sanders responded, “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is trailing far behind both Clinton and Sanders is also on record asking that the DNC hold more debates. Without them, he feels his chances of making a lasting impression on voters will be severely restricted. O’Malley feels that not only is the DNC wrong in imposing the new rule, but that the rule itself is illegal. His attorney, Joe Sandler has branded the DNC’s debate rule “entirely unprecedented” and “legally problematic” and claims the exclusivity clause is “legally unenforceable.”
Under Federal Election Commission rules, the format and structure of each debate must be controlled exclusively by the debate sponsor, not by any party or candidate committee.
Legally, the DNC cannot dictate the format or structure of any debate sponsored by a media outlet or 501(c)(3) organization— including the criteria for participation. It would be legally problematic if any of the sponsors of the sanctioned debates has actually agreed to the ‘exclusivity’ requirement. And in any event, it is highly unlikely that any of those sponsors of the sanctioned debates would ultimately be willing to enforce that ‘exclusivity’ requirement.
O’Malley has said that he and the other Democratic candidates would probably participate in unsanctioned debates. In an interview with WKBK radio in New Hampshire, he said he was prepared to participate in “as many forums” as possible.
The host of the show, Dan Mitchell, echoed the concerns of a lot of Democrats, asking if the number of debates was being limited in an attempt to protect front-runner Hillary Clinton and if the other Democratic candidates would get together and hold their own debate.
O’Malley didn’t come out and say that the schedule was tilted to favor Clinton but he did address the second half of the question:
Well, I think, probably, that’s what will happen. I’ve called upon all of our presidential candidates, including Secretary Clinton, to step up and say we should have more than just one debate in Iowa or one debate in New Hampshire. And to add injury to insult, for them to schedule this in New Hampshire on the 19th of December when everyone’s out getting ready for Christmas or doing their stuff with their church choir or what have you, that just really outrageous.
Recently, an action was launched by Facebook page Operation Fire Storm the DNC And Wasserman Schultz calling for members of the public who feel more debates are needed to bombard the DNC Chair with a demand for an additional 5 debates prior to the primaries.
The American electorate deserves to get the full picture of the candidates who are running for the presidency. Wasserman Schultz’s claim that no one is paying attention doesn’t hold up in light of the 24 million viewers of the Fox Republican debate. Admittedly, the Democrats don’t have anywhere near the number of candidates nor do they have the entertainment and pure shock value of a Donald Trump. We have something better: candidates who speak to the issues rather than pandering to a rabid base. Our candidates need to get a full hearing. It’s the democratic thing to do.