There remain a whole lot of very contentious subjects from the 2016 presidential election cycle, but one of the more bitter ones is that there weren’t very many debates on the Democratic side — and that they tended to be scheduled on Saturday nights, or at other times when they were unlikely to get much of an audience. Some supporters of then-candidate Bernie Sanders, in particular, saw that as part of the Democratic National Committee’s plot to “rig” the nominating contest for Hillary Clinton.
In 2016, there were nine Democratic debates, and the first one was held in October of 2015. Next year, there will be more debates than that — and they will start much sooner.
According to Vox, the DNC has announced that six Democratic debates will be held in 2019, and six more in 2020 — with the first one taking place in June of 2019, only six months from now. The first four debates will be held in the first four primary and caucus states, which are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Specific dates and locations will not be announced until 2019.
“We welcome and encourage a large field,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in the press call, as reported by Vox. The DNC has asked candidates not to hold debates outside of the party’s auspices, although they won’t stop candidates from appearing individually at forum events.
As to the question of how debate invites will be handled — and who will participate, in a field that may include as many as 20 candidates — Perez told reporters that the DNC will use several criteria, including polling numbers and grassroots funding levels.
The Republican primary process in 2016, which included 18 candidates, often featured an “undercard” debate, in which lesser-performing candidates participated in a separate debate from the front-runners. Perez said that, in the event of a large field, some of the debates may hold separate events on consecutive nights, with participants drawn at random.
In 2016, when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders emerged as the top two candidates on the Democratic side, the DNC was criticized for seeming to favor Clinton. Clinton backers argued that the DNC didn’t quite have the power to throw the election to any particular candidate. The first debate of the 2016 cycle wasn’t held until October 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. The debates were held roughly once a month through the following April, although two forums each were held in February and March — at which point only Clinton and Sanders were remaining.
The new Democratic debate plan: 12 in total. Six in 2019, six in 2020. First one in June 2019.— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) December 20, 2018
In the case of a large field: No undercard - instead they'll split the first 2 debates into two consecutive nights, with lineups chosen by random 'public' draw https://t.co/M5AtoRchvb
The Democratic field f0r 2020 is wide open, with expected top candidates including Sanders, former Vice President Joseph Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and possibly former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The first votes in the 2020 Democratic primary will be cast when the Iowa caucuses are held on February 3, 2020. New Hampshire will vote in its primary February 11, followed by Nevada’s caucuses on February 22. South Carolina’s Democratic caucus will be held on February 29.