On the Frequency of Democratic Debates

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On The Surface
DNC Chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz drew ire when she announced that the DNC would only sanction 6 democratic debates during the primary season–roughly half the number than what Republican candidates have. Intentional or not, the frequency of debates is an important issue as it allows less visible candidates a chance to speak to a broad audience and to widen their appeal, and could be destructive for the frontrunner.
Debate Frequency
In 2008, Hillary Clinton (widely viewed as the front-runner in that race) debated Barack Obama no fewer than 27 times. Under Wasserman Schultz’s edict, only four debates are scheduled, with two more tentative debates; candidates are also forbidden from appearing in debates not officially sanctioned by the DNC.
Democratic underdogs (namely Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley) have condemned this schedule, which they view as insufficient. They want more publicized opportunities to square off with front-runner Hillary Clinton; with fewer debates comes fewer chances to do this.
They have a point: consider the controversy surrounding the two-tiered Republican debate hosted earlier by Fox News. Many Republican candidates were quick to criticize their consignation into the second tier, pointing out that debates are a critical opportunity for low-polling candidates to deliver their message in front of a national audience. Many critics of the plan have even accused Wasserman Schultz of scheduling so few debates in order to protect Hillary Clinton: debates are much riskier for frontrunners, who have the most to lose.
If Wasserman Schultz gives in to public pressure for more debates, she will certainly be doing a service to less-favored candidates, and might even be opening up the potential to damage Hillary Clinton–which might be the reason there are so few debates in the first place.
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