Outside Party Lines: Union Leader, NBC Invite Democrats to Buck DNC Rules for Debate in N.H.

Jan 26, 2016

Credit GIF created using footage from NBC

The Democratic presidential candidates could have one final chance to debate before New Hampshire voters head to the polls.

The Union Leader announced plans to partner with NBC News to host another debate on Feb. 4, five days ahead of the state’s presidential primary.

The move comes after months of discontent over the Democratic National Committee’s official debate schedule.

New Hampshire was originally given only one of six DNC-sanctioned debates, which was held Dec. 19 in Manchester. In 2008, for example, New Hampshire hosted three of the 19 Democratic primary debates, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

At the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s state convention last fall, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was confronted directly with booming chants from people calling for "more debate." At times, the chorus grew so loud that Wasserman Schultz was forced to pause and respond to the crowd's demands. 

"Come on folks, we are all on the same side," Wasserman Schultz said at the time. "So let's make sure we focus on the Republicans. We should not be arguing amongst ourselves. We have a job to do. We have a president to elect."

Under the DNC debate rules, candidates who participate in a non-sanctioned debate could risk being excluded from future debates.

"Any candidate or debate sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process," the DNC said in May. "Any violation would result in forfeiture of the ability to participate in the remainder of the debate process."

It’s not yet clear how the DNC plans to handle candidates who opt to participate in the Union Leader’s new debate.

In a statement provided by a DNC spokesman Tuesday night, Wasserman Schultz said the party isn't planning to sanction the newly announced New Hampshire debate.

"We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule," the party chairwoman said. "Our three major candidates are already scheduled to appear on the same stage next week for the New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner on February 5th."

According to the Union Leader, the newly announced debate will air on MSNBC in prime time, and it will be co-moderated by Meet The Press Host Chuck Todd and MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.

The news of this new debate was met with cheers from “New Hampshire Debates,” a group of New Hampshire lawmakers and other Democratic activists that has been calling for an additional debate for several months. In a statement, the group urged all three major Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders — to sign on.

O’Malley, in particular, has also been vocal in challenging the DNC over its plans to limit the number of debates. In a separate statement, O’Malley’s New Hampshire State Director John Bivona also cheered the news of another New Hampshire debate.

“Today is a big victory not only for our campaign and our supporters that championed this effort, but it is also a victory for voters across New Hampshire and the United States,” Bivona said. “We look forward to participating.”