Democrats Set Six Presidential Debates, Republicans Search For A Big Enough Debate Stage
Hillary Clinton will meet Bernie Sanders and whomever else decides to enter the Presidential race on the Democratic side in debates six times, at least that’s what the Democratic National Committee is saying:
Democrats will announce Tuesday six presidential primary debates, giving long shots a potential opportunity to share the debate stage with frontrunner Hillary Clinton, CNN has learned.
The Democratic National Committee has plans for debates to occur in the early-contest states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The two other locations will be decided at a later date.
“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,” said DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz who confirmed debate details in a statement shortly after CNN broke this story.
The DNC will set the criteria for debate inclusion and any candidate who participates in a separate debate outside of the sanctioning process will be barred from future DNC debates, a Democratic official told CNN.
The official said that the DNC decided six debates was a reasonable number and in line with what the national committee sanctioned in 2008. The debate process won’t begin until the fall, according to the official, because that is “when voters are truly beginning to pay attention.”
The Republican nominees for President are set to meet in no more than a dozen debates during the cycle, but their problem won’t be the number of debates so much as finding a big enough stage:
After suffering through a seemingly endless and unwieldy stream of 23 debates in the 2012 cycle, the Republican National Committee took control of the process, marshaling networks and candidates to agree to a framework where they only participate in fewer than a dozen sanctioned debates. But now the national party and networks face the new challenge of arranging as many as 17 candidates on a single televised stage.
Largely out of view, executives and journalists from Fox and CNN, with input from the national party, are weighing the entrance criteria for the first two debates. Among the options being considered is using polling as a rough inclusionary test, followed by a fundraising metric—dollars raised or the number of individual donors activated. All of these things are in flux as the networks and the national party struggle with the largest plausible debate field in history.
“This is truly historic in that normally you are trying to get people into the debates and now you are trying to whittle people out of the debates,” said one Republican operative familiar with the debate process. “You’ve never had more than 10 candidates in either party on a debate stage. You could get to at least 16 to 17 candidates and make a legitimate case for them being there—easy.”
It strikes me that it will be difficult for the party and debate organizers to exclude many candidates from the early debates based solely on poll numbers given the fact that this debate will be the first opportunity for many of them to even introduce themselves to the public. Other considerations will likely play a role as well. For example, would Republicans really want to exclude Carly Fiorina, the only woman the race, based on her poll numbers given the message that is likely to send? Additionally, if there are sitting Governors who are polling low it seems likely it will be hard to keep them out of at least the early debates. The most interesting question, though, comes in the person of Donald Trump, who has formed an exploratory committee but hasn’t announced if he’s running yet. Assuming that he does, it seems as though it would be hard to keep him off the stage even though letting him on the stage means that he’s likely to steal the spotlight from other, more serious candidates. After these first debates, it will be easier to exclude underperforming candidates of course, but expect to see a very crowded stage for at least the first debate or two.