The Democratic National Committee is about to finalize a primary debate plan for 2020 that would give less-known candidates a chance to share the same stage as party leaders, avoiding the two-tiered "kiddie table" approach. Which divided the Republican field in the last presidential campaign.
President Tom Perez and his team have been meeting for months with campaign counselors 2016 and other stakeholders to find a way to improve the process of debate, while taking into account the unusually large class credible potential candidates, who could have more than 20 in the spring.
Perez made it clear to his collaborators that he wanted the field to be presented in a way that would mix the best candidates with the lesser known ones. The party's proposed solution, which will be submitted to Perez for approval later this month, would also take into account other factors besides national polls, such as staffing, fundraising and fundraising. the number of offices, to allow participation in the debates.
"There are a lot of really good people running or planning to run on our side," said Mary Beth Cahill, a senior DNC advisor, who led the debate planning process. "We want everyone to have the same fate at the beginning."
The decision to democratize the debate phase at the beginning of the primary campaign could give less-known candidates a crucial platform, thus helping to level the playing field for the broader struggles for the Democratic nomination for decades . In the 2016 round, Republican candidates with a low number of polls were grouped together in previous and lower-rated debates, where they were unable to engage directly with party leaders.
Democratic Party officials hope that this plan will also alleviate ongoing concerns over the 2016 election, when leaders of the time were closely consulted, and in some respects exclusively, with Hillary Clinton's campaign on planning the debate in a way that, according to her rivals, would have given her an unfair advantage and may have harmed the party in the general election.
This time, Perez promised an electoral cycle "just in fact and just in perception". To achieve this goal, he and Cahill spoke privately with campaign advisers for the 2016 campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) And former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who had complained of the debates last time.
Party leaders say they have not yet consulted potential 2020 candidates or their advisers about debate plans, although some of the 2016 councilors are likely to participate in the race to 2020. Sanders is planning another presidential race, and former O'Malley advisor Lis Smith is working with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is also planning to run.
"The 2016 debate schedule was a total disaster for both candidates and voters," Smith said of his talks with party leaders. "This year, the DNC is commended for working to make this process a more transparent and inclusive process."
Sanders quarterback Tad Devine and campaign manager Jeff Weaver applauded the new approach.
"They were really interested in knowing what was good, what was little, and what was wrong, which was a lot," said Weaver, who will likely be involved if Sanders runs again. "I recommended starting the process earlier, so it's not just above the primaries and caucuses."
Democratic staff members expect Perez to approve key elements of Cahill's plan later this month, although exact dates and broadcast partners are not known until next year. . The proposed rules will cover the initial number and the approximate timing of the debates, including the starting point of the debate season. They will also determine the conditions required for the debates and determine the sanctions for participation in forums not sanctioned by the party.
The debate plan could also set goals for partnerships with local and social media companies to broaden the audience of the debate beyond the viewers. traditional news from the cable. Some networks, including CNN, have begun contacting potential 2020 advisors with the hope of being able to participate in exclusive events, such as town halls, according to collaborators from two potential candidates. (A CNN spokeswoman declined to comment on network planning.)
During the last presidential cycle, the Democratic Party initially sanctioned six debates from October 2015, including four clashes in the Iowa caucuses, including two on Saturday. Three debates were added later.
Candidates were allowed to participate in other town hall forums and events, but the party threatened to deter sanctioned events for any candidate taking part in a formal debate outside the party system.
A study of television audiences conducted by NDN, a Democratic-minded think-tank, estimated that the 12 Republican primary debates in 2016 had attracted 114 million more viewers than the nine Democratic debates, giving the GOP candidate Donald Trump, a potential advantage at the beginning of the general debate. -election campaign.
The importance of Clinton's role in the formulation of the 2016 debate plan became clear after the primary. An email from Clinton's April 2015 campaign released by WikiLeaks in late 2016, allegedly stolen by US prosecutors for the purpose of influencing the election, showed that his collaborators had worked with the DNC advisers to limit the number of debates and delay the beginning of the debates. debate season and create a low bar for participation in the hope of attracting more candidates on the scene.
In his conversations with Perez and Cahill, Devine suggested that the party adopt a broader debate-type qualification method than the one used in 2016, requiring candidates to obtain support of at least 1% in three polling offices. national primary polls. A survey conducted in October this year by CNN revealed 14 potential candidates with the support of 1% or more of primary voters, although not all are likely to be candidates.
"My suggestion on this is that it's not a single standard," said Devine. "Polls should be part of it. There are also resources, people who follow you on Facebook, or on Twitter, who collect funds. "
Democratic leaders say they have also considered several criteria. "We looked at different qualifications and different thresholds to achieve a more inclusive outcome," said a Democratic Party official involved in the process, who requested anonymity because the plan had not been announced yet. .
The number of debates will likely exceed the 2016 level, but the DNC team is trying to balance the concerns of the past campaign regarding the disruptive effect that debates may have on the campaign in the first few years. States. In the 2008 primary, 16 Democratic debates were broadcast on major cable or broadcasting networks, as well as 10 other less formal debates.
Party officials also fear starting too early, with some candidates likely to wait until the end of spring, or even summer 2019, to announce their campaigns.
In total, Democratic leaders reported that they held more than 40 meetings to develop the 2020 plans, including information gathering sessions with former co-sponsors, media partners and presidents of States Parties.
There is a general consensus that this year's group of credible Democratic candidates could set records.
"There are 47 members of the US Senate and 23 governors. My assumption is that until they declare that they are not candidates, they are potential candidates, "said Donna Brazile, Acting President of the DNC in the second half of 2016 "We should have a lot of fun. "