The Democratic National Committee has officially sanctioned 12 Democratic Primary debates for the 2020 Democratic Primary. There will be 6 held in 2019, and another 6 held in early 2020. The first debate is scheduled to take place in June of 2019, though specific dates and locations have not yet been disclosed.
According to DNC Chairman Tom Perez, the 2020 Democratic debate schedule is being made as inclusive as possible. The early debates, the ones in June and July of 2019, may feature back-to-back nights of primetime broadcasts. This is being done to allow for the large field of candidates to all have access to a primetime audience without being relegated to the “undercard” status which plagued the Republican primary debates in 2016.
“We welcome and encourage a large field,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in the press call, noting that these debates are designed to ensure that all candidates who meet a certain set of qualifications will have an opportunity to use this platform. Participation won’t be limited solely based on a candidates’ polling numbers, he said, adding that other factors including grassroots funding would be considered as well.
The early debates in 2019 will be scattered around the country, according to Perez, who noted that the debates in 2020 will be held in each of the early primary states running up their respective primary voting day. This means that the early primary and caucus states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada likely won’t see a debate held locally until 2020.
More details provided by the Washington Post:
“Drawing lots strikes me as the fairest way to make sure everyone gets a fair shake,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez said Thursday. “We want our candidates to be able to articulate their vision of America. We don’t want debates to be discussions of what your hand size is. We want debates to be discussions of health care.”
As it did in the last presidential election, the Democratic Party will threaten to punish candidates who participate in debates outside of the official schedule. But candidates are welcome to attend forums or town halls with their competitors, as long as they appear in sequence and do not directly engage with each other before voters.
Democratic officials have been meeting for months with media partners and veterans of the last campaign to create the debate plan, with the goal of avoiding the controversy that defined the last debate process.
Yes, I would strongly believe that the DNC wants to avoid the same missteps witnessed in 2016, whether it was the decision to hold off on debates, which naturally gave Hillary Clinton an advantage, or the missteps by the GOP of relegating candidates to the “kid’s table” undercard status.
With a huge field of maybe 20 or more major candidates, a balancing act must be made by party officials to be inclusive, yet practical. Having 20 candidates on a stage would give each candidate less than a few minutes of talk time. The other option would be holding a 4-hour debate, which neither the audience or the candidates would appreciate.
The decision to allow back-to-back nights of debates early in the process seems to strike the best balance between giving candidates access to primetime, yet limiting the number of voices talking over one another.
During the 2016 cycle, the first Democratic primary debate didn’t take place until October of 2015, which was a decision met with outrage among candidates and voters alike who felt that delaying the debates was an obvious move to help Hillary Clinton.
You can get all the details as they become available on the Election Central 2020 Democratic Debate page.