WASHINGTON – The Democratic National Committee on Thursday announced a new presidential debate process that prepares for a potentially large field of candidates vying to take on President Donald Trump.
The party will hold 12 debates, beginning in June 2019. If necessary, depending on the number of candidates who meet the threshold, the DNC is prepared to split the first two debates in June and July into consecutive nights, said DNC Chairman Tom Perez. If that happens, the lineup will be determined by random selection, which will take place publicly.
“It’s conceivable that we have a double-digit field,” Perez told reporters on a conference call. “That is why we are planning for that contingency.”
Six debates will be held in 2019 and six in 2020. Debates in the four early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – will be held in 2020.
Perez announced reforms he said are designed to make the process fair, transparent and inclusive. Unlike in previous cycles, the party won’t focus exclusively on polling to determine which candidates participate in the first two debates, he said. Candidates will qualify for those debates by meeting criteria that includes polling and other measures reflecting a candidate’s support, such as grassroots fundraising.
Perez said the DNC will underscore to media organizations hosting the debates that they want to see the discussions focus on policy issues.
“We don’t want debates to be discussions of what your hand size is,” he said, in a reference to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s jab at Trump in 2016. “We want debates to be discussions of health care, the topics that are important to the American people.”
During the 2016 primary election cycle, the party initially announced six debates, but more were added later at the behest of candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who sparred over the process.
Perez said the schedule for 2020 followed discussions with people with knowledge of the debate process, but not potential 2020 candidates.
"That's exactly what we were not doing," he said.
Perez said candidates won't be barred from participating in forums, but they'll be asked to refrain from participating in debates other than those organized by the DNC.
The changes are part of major reforms to the Democratic presidential nominating process, including expanded use of primaries and reducing the role of "super delegates," the elected officials and party leaders who are free to support the presidential candidate they wish at the Democratic National Convention.