The Democrats Are Holding Six Debates–And Martin O’Malley Isn’t Happy

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Aug 12, 2015 6:50 PM
The Democrats Are Holding Six Debates–And Martin O’Malley Isn’t Happy

Something that sort of fell by the wayside since this was announced during the first GOP debate on August 6, but the Democrats are scheduled to hold six debates–and former Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley isn’t happy.

Via ABC News/AP:

The Democratic National Committee unveiled plans on Thursday to hold six presidential debates starting this fall, with the first scheduled for Oct. 13 in Nevada.

[…]

So far, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee are scheduled to participate in the officially sanctioned forums.

Vice President Joe Biden's staff has been kept informed about the scheduling but has not committed to attending, according to Democrats involved with the process. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

Recent conversations between Biden associates and Democratic donors and operatives have led to speculation that Biden might challenge Clinton, though he has not announced a decision to his staff or said publicly whether he plans to run.

"There's always room for the sitting vice president if he chooses to run," said DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "In fact, there's room for anyone at this point."

Four debates are scheduled in early primary states before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, a number considered too few by candidates challenging Clinton for the nomination. Dates for the final two gatherings, planned for Wisconsin and Miami, have not been set, but the committee said they will be held in February or March.

In addition to the October forum, debates will be held Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa; Dec. 19 in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Jan. 17 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Yeah, the 2016 Biden bus could be rolling out sometime soon. The vice president said he would make his presidential ambitions, or lack thereof, known this month. Nevertheless, O’Malley isn’t happy about the debates, feeling six isn’t an adequate number. Sen. Sanders appears to agree, but the Democratic National Committee feels that their figure is more than enough to satisfy their primary process (via the Hill):

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is keeping pressure on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to increase the number of Democratic presidential debates.

"We're making a big mistake, as Democrats, if we try to limit debate and have an undemocratic process," O'Malley said Monday on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports."

"Shame on us as a party if the DNC tries to limit debate and prevents us from being able to put forward a better path for our people that will make the economy work for all of us again," he said.

[…]

During an interview with The Hill last week, O'Malley accused party insiders of attempting to steer the race in favor of Clinton. Sanders similarly said he was "disappointed" in the limited number of debates.

DNC spokeswoman Holly Shulman reiterated on Monday that the party sees its current schedule as more than sufficient.

“We are thrilled the candidates are so eager to participate in our debates. We believe that six debates will give plenty of opportunity for the candidates to be seen side-by-side. I’m sure there will be lots of other forums for the candidates to make their case to voters, and that they will make the most out of every opportunity,” Shulman says.

Now, O’Malley’s lawyer has issued a memo, calling the debate schedule “legally problematic” and “entirely unprecedented” (via MSNBC):

Of particular concern to O’Malley is the DNC’s exclusivity requirement, which would punish candidates and debate sponsors who participate in unsanctioned debates by barring them from participating in remaining official events. The DNC’s goal was to limit the unwieldy sprawl of the last Democratic primary in 2008, when the number of debates mushroomed to about two dozen.

But O’Malley’s attorney says that 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,” Sandler wrote in the memo.

The six debates are sponsored by 10 media outlets and one non-profit organization. “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,” Sandler added. “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.”

In response, the Democratic National Committee said it did not set the rules of inclusion on its own, but rather worked in tandem with debate sponsors to set a unified standard. “We agreed with the networks on a standardized criteria across all debates,” said DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper.

On one hand, you could argue that O’Malley is being a crybaby. He’s way down in the polls and will never catch up to Hillary. As such, the Clinton juggernaut could easily ignore O’Malley, and any debate for that matter, given that she has this thing pretty much locked up. Yes, Bernie Sanders is surging; he recently pulled ahead of her in New Hampshire. But Sanders could win Iowa and New Hampshire and still lose the nomination. The Democratic Party may be moving towards the left, but right now, there aren’t enough of them to spearhead a successful insurgency. As Nate Cohn of The New York Times noted, Sanders’ coalition is “deep, but narrow,” and it’s missing healthy numbers of blacks and other minorities, which enabled Obama to outlast and beat Hillary in the 2008 primaries. Moreover, as Guy wrote today, we’ll know if Sanders is serious about beating her majesty if and when he decides to attack her.

So, Hillary has this thing all but locked up. Democrats may not want this to be a coronation, but it’s looking like it, even with the probe into her private email account. If this does cause serious trouble with her on the campaign, then we should all rejoice. The Clintons aren’t the “penicillin-resistant syphilis of American politics,” but even with her low favorables and “meh” attitudes towards her from fellow Democrats, they’ll still vote for her because these folks are definitely not voting Republican.

For now, these debates are more of an act of mercy bestowed to Clinton’s underling primary candidates who have no shot at the nomination. Yet, given her falling approvals and the ongoing  federal investigation into her emails, more people in the race might be just what Democrats want, and Vice President Joe Biden is looking better than ever. That probably explains why Team Clinton is a bit nervous if he tosses his hat into the ring. We’ll see. Although, Biden has run and failed before, thus we shouldn’t be shocked that the end result-should he run–is another flame out.