N.H. Discontent with Democratic Primary Debate Schedule Continues

Nov 4, 2015

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A group of top New Hampshire Democrats continues to push back against the national party’s primary debate plans, calling for at least one additional debate in the Granite State ahead of the presidential primary.

Two dozen New Hampshire legislators and other prominent Democratic activists gathered in Concord Wednesday to reiterate concerns about the existing debate structure. They also invited other organizations to partner with them in setting up a new debate. Ideally, the group wants to set up a debate between the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary (currently scheduled a week apart in early February), but they are open to other options.

A group of New Hampshire Democrats yesterday called on the national Democratic party to increase the number of debates to the presidential primary calendar -- including another debate in New Hampshire.
Credit Casey McDermott / NHPR

  The group has spoken with NH1 News but has not finalized a partnership with the station to host a debate, and they are open to working with organizations — media outlets, universities or other institutions — to host an event. If they are successful in arranging a debate, the group hopes that they’re also able to convince each of the Democratic candidates to sign on — and, in doing so, making it more difficult for the national party to punish candidates who go outside of the pre-sanctioned lineup.

As it stands, the national party intends to hold six primary debates, and the lone debate in New Hampshire is scheduled for Dec. 19. The party has also warned that candidates “must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process,” and those who participate in non-sanctioned debates could give up their access in future debates.  http://www.democrats.org/post/dnc-to-sanction-six-presidential-primary-debates

The New Hampshire group — which boasts 120 members total, including prominent supporters of all three major Democratic candidates — takes issue with the DNC on several fronts.

First, they argue, a single debate in the Granite State is insufficient, particularly when the state has hosted multiple pre-primary debates in the past. The timing, they say, is also less-than-ideal: The debate in New Hampshire falls right in the middle of Hanukkah and Christmas, and the group says many will be preoccupied with the holiday season.

Martha Fuller Clark, a vice chair for the state party and a member of the Democratic National Committee, was among those who spoke out against the DNC’s existing debate plans at a press conference on Wednesday. Fuller Clark said she has attempted to discuss her concerns with DNC leadership, with no success.

“The members of the DNC, the executive committee of the DNC had nothing to do with setting up the schedule that’s in front of us. This was decided by Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her staff,” Fuller Clark said Wednesday morning. “There are a lot of people who are involved with the DNC, part of the DNC, who are also trying to bring pressure on Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”

While some of its most active members have spoken out on the debate plans, the New Hampshire Democratic Party has not weighed in as forcefully against the DNC. When asked for the state party’s stance on the debates Wednesday, the party did not indicate whether it would support an additional New Hampshire debate.

“We're proud to be a co-host of the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Debate in December and we're looking forward to hearing the Democratic candidates lay out their visions for our country's future, a marked difference from the Republican candidates, who continue to spout the same old out-of-touch and failed Republican policies of the past,” Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement.

But as Fuller Clark and other coalition members see it, the Democrats are losing out on an opportunity to be heard as fully as the Republicans by limiting the number of pre-primary debates.

“We need to make sure, in this convoluted world that we’re in, that the voters of the country have a clear under of who we are as a party and how we are different than the Republican party,” Fuller Clark said. "We need to have more debates so that we can compete in the public arena.”

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