Democratic presidential candidates blast ‘undemocratic’ debate timing
If a debate falls on a Sunday and no one is around to watch it, do the candidates make a sound? It depends on who you ask.
“I did my best to make sure, along with my staff and along with our debate partners, to come up with a schedule that we felt was going to allow for the – to maximize the opportunity for voters to see our candidates,” Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday.
Two Democratic presidential candidates out of three would politely disagree.
“We’ve never had such an undemocratic debate schedule as we have this year in the Democratic party,” said former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley during Fusion’s Black and Brown forum, which is not the same as a debate and pulls even more dismal viewership numbers.
“And then to add insult to injury, they schedule these debates on Saturday [and Sunday] nights when as few people will see them as possible.”
O’Malley, who is polling far behind Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, blamed his flagging campaign squarely on the DNC’s debate schedule.
The DNC debate schedule has been the source of much internal dissent, with many accusing party leadership of deliberately creating a schedule that drives down viewership and tilts the nomination to Clinton, the establishment favorite.
But if true – and the party’s chairwoman has repeatedly said it is not – any plan to protect Clinton has backfired. Tonight is the last debate before voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Sanders and Clinton are deadlocked .
There was the one debate on a Tuesday in October. There was the other on a Saturday in November that competed with college football. And there was one just days before Christmas – in the same 24-hour window in which the new and record-breaking Star Wars movie was released. Now there’s one in the middle of a holiday weekend, after two NFL playoff games.
The three Democratic debates have drawn a total of 33 million viewers. By contrast, Republicans have held six debates, attracting 102 million viewers.
There are only two more Democratic debates scheduled, compared to six remaining Republican contests.
On Sunday, Wasserman Schultz seemed to seek to excuse her party’s low viewership with a quality-over-quantity argument.
“They [the Republicans] have got a reality TV star that is attracting a lot of train wreck, you know, ‘you shouldn’t watch but you can’t help yourself’ type interest,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“On our side, we’re getting record viewership for our debates. And we have had three up to now, and this is our fourth. And that’s because voters really care about the issues.”
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