The Missing Democratic Debates
Dying to debate.
The bounce Carly Fiorina received from last week’s presidential debate has undoubtedly left many of her fellow candidates feeling jealous -- and not just Republicans. Most of the Democrats trying to gain traction against Hillary Clinton are demanding more debates in hopes of raising their public profiles, too. By refusing, the Democratic National Committee not only hurts those candidates, but also denies voters the chance to see a fair fight for the nomination.
The first of four Democratic debates before voting begins will not take place until mid-October -- and three of them are on weekends. If the Democratic Party were trying to keep the audience to a minimum, it could hardly have drawn up a better plan. Equally troubling, candidates who participate in any debate not sanctioned by the DNC forfeit their right to join the official debates. Why would a party want to muzzle its candidates this way?
It doesn't take a cynic to believe that the DNC has the Clinton campaign’s best interests in mind. Front-runners almost always prefer to minimize the number of debates and their viewers, and the DNC chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was co-chair of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Martin O’Malley has accused her of rigging the schedule and the rules in Clinton’s favor, and it’s hard not to sympathize with him.
The DNC’s priority should be to encourage broad discussion of the issues and give all candidates a chance to make their case. O’Malley is polling at about 2 percent, not far below where Fiorina stood before the second Republican debate. More time in the spotlight might not boost his standing, but voters should make that decision, not the party.
Clinton says she’s open to more debates. Yet she refuses to call for them, saying it’s the DNC's decision -- as though her campaign holds no sway with the party.
Happily, the DNC is facing mounting public pressure to act. Over the weekend, when Wasserman Schultz attempted to address a party convention in New Hampshire, she was drowned out by chants of “We want debates!” Some national party leaders have gotten the message. Two of its vice chairs have called for more debates, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has joined them.
Clinton should, too. In 2008, when she was falling behind Barack Obama, Clinton saw the virtue of calling for more debates -- in no small part because she performed so well in them. Now, they could give her an opportunity to stop the Bernie Sanders boomlet and remind voters why they once viewed her so favorably.
The public seems eager to tune in. The Republican debates have been a ratings bonanza, attracting more than 23 million viewers. Whether they have been more entertaining or informative is itself a matter of debate. Either way, they've given voters a good chance to see the candidates in action.
Democratic voters deserve the same opportunity.
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