Hours before 17 Republican presidential candidates sat down for the first of up to 12 primary debates, the Democratic National Committee announced Thursday their own debate schedule.
Beginning October 13 in Nevada, the DNC will sanction six primary debates, which according to party chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, provides voters “ample opportunity” to hear from candidates and highlights “the clear contrast between the values” of Democrats and Republicans.
However, Martin O’Malley said that just six debates (compared to 15 debates in 2004 and 25 in 2008) serve a different purpose—specifically, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
“It’s all about trying to pre-ordain the outcome, circle the wagons and close off debate,” O’Malley told The Hill . “If they could actually accelerate the date of the Iowa caucuses and hold them tomorrow — they’d like to do that. Then there’d be no campaign at all. That’s what they’d really like.”
According to FiveThirtyEight, the six scheduled debates would be the fewest in a presidential primary since the Republicans held six in 1980. Additionally, only four of the debates are scheduled before the February 1 Iowa caucuses.
Fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders wrote a letter to Wasserman Shultz in June urging for more and earlier debates (as well as inter-party debates), citing the electoral success of Democrats in 2008 and connecting voter turnout to a larger numbers of debates.
Sanders told The New York Times he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the debate schedule.
As FiveThirtyEight noted, six debates are the exact amount sanctioned by the DNC in 2004 and 2008. However, this year the party announced that—unlike past election cycles—they would ban candidates from DNC debates, if candidates participated in unsanctioned debates.
On Twitter, O’Malley deputy campaign manager Lis Smith sparked a debate between former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and current NHDP coimmitteewoman Kathy Sullivan (who has endorsed Clinton’s campaign) and New Hampshire O’Malley supporters.
O’Malley has since begun a social media hashtag campaign #WeNeedDebate, and Smith tweeted that the campaign was working with “other organizations” to set up independent debates, adding “the cake was baked long ago.”
Back in June, National Journal reporter Ron Fournier said on Face the Nation he heard both the O’Malley and Sanders campaigns were planning to “blow up the DNC debates” and “have their own debates outside the system.”
Asked by Boston.com whether six debates was a sufficient amount, a Clinton spokesperson provided the campaign’s generic statement:
“Hillary Clinton is looking forward to joining her fellow Democratic candidates in the upcoming DNC-sanctioned debates.”
Gallery: the 2016 presidential candidates