The DNC took heat for limiting the number of debates during the 2016 primary and scheduling many of them on weekends when fewer viewers would tune in. The number eventually expanded from six to nine, but many Sanders’ supporters charged the committee with trying to help Clinton by limiting exposure to his leftist message.
Ahead of 2020, the DNC has scheduled a dozen debates, with the first two coming in June and July 2019. The number of participants is capped at 20 – and some could be aired over two consecutive nights.
The field could well exceed that tally. Already more than a dozen have jumped in, including Sanders, Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Former three-term Rep. Beto O’Rourke joined the race Thursday. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive front-runner in early polling, is still mulling a run.
To qualify, a candidate would need to have 1 percent support in three national polls or raise money from at least 65,000 donors from 20 states and 200 unique donors in each of those states.
Perez said his goals include giving the grassroots a bigger voice and reaching as many potential voters as possible, telling CNBC the “primary debate process is focused on maximizing inclusion and fairness.“
Uygur would like to see even more debates. “Every time you have a debate, you are spreading the Democratic message,” he said. “It’s free advertising.”
He added that a crowded field will be good for the eventual nominee: “They’ll pass the test of the primaries and be strengthened” by it.
Not all observers agree. A post from Fivethirtyeight.com, a site that crunches polling numbers and analyzes data, said a crowded podium could muddy the waters, keep weaker candidates afloat for longer and hurt the party’s chance of winning the general election. The analysis used the crowded 2016 Republican debates as an example.
“If 2016 is any guide, unwieldy debates among lots of candidates who are polling in the low single digits won’t result in a few of the strongest competitors separating themselves from the pack, which is undoubtedly what the party would prefer.”
One thing is nearly certain as the field continues to expand: “This will be a long primary process,” said Sosnik. “A lot of states will matter.”